Thoughts on ways to improve the management of professional services firms

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

People management in professional services - developing management skills

My last post People management in professional services - professionals vs managers focused on the differences between professionals and managers created by role, training and even personality. I concluded: The bottom line in all this is that it is not surprising that most professionals are not good managers and that professionals and managers can experience difficulty in talking to each other.

Now if the core of the problem does lie in the role, training and even personality of the professional, what then can we or should we do about it? That is, does it matter?

I think that it does matter. Increasingly professionals are expected to work in teams, to have the capacity to integrate their work with others, to manage others. This makes management skills important. So we need to look for ways to help professionals acquire those skills.

In doing so, we need to recognize that some professionals simply cannot or will not. A person may be a brilliant technician but lack the personality, motivation and skills to manage others. In these cases we need to be flexible enough to manage round them, to benefit from the person's skills without expecting them to do things they cannot.

We also need to recognize that the professional's core role lies in their professional responsibilities. As I see it, a core challenge in the management of professional services firms is to free the professionals up so that they can do their job without bogging down in administrative and management elements irrelevant to their core role.

Subject to these qualifications, I think that three things need to be done.

First and at the most macro level, training in management and associated communications skills needs to be built into the training of all professionals.

Now I must admit to a frustration here. Anybody who has been involved in training knows that there is a difference between knowledge and skills. Knowledge, the information about what has to be done, can be acquired through private study. Skills, the capacity to do, can only be acquired through doing.

Every professional knows this. When we train specialist doctors, we ensure that they gain lots of practical experience under the supervision of experienced specialists. Yet when you look at the communications and management training in many professions it tends to be knowledge focused. We need to do something about this.

Second, we need to ensure that professionals likely to be exposed to management issues receive proper training while on the job. Again, this must be skills focused. The only way to learn effective delegation is through the combination of knowledge acquired through training with practical, assessed, application.

Finally, performance measurement systems must be structured so as to measure, where appropriate, management contribution. When I see a system totally focused on individual production I know that there will be a delegation and management problem.

I now want to extend my analysis by focusing on the people chain in professional services from recruitment through to exit. But before doing so I want to provide a short overview on the training process itself to set a context. I will do this in my next post.

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