Thoughts on ways to improve the management of professional services firms

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Welcome to visitor 25,000 and Happy Christmas to all

Time pressures this year have really limited my ability to post to the point that I almost decided to archive this blog. Then, for a number of reasons, I decided to continue.

Noric Dilanchian was one reason. He sends me a steady stream of material that he thinks, correctly, is worthy of comment. Then, too, the blog still attracts traffic despite my poor posting. In this context, welcome to visitor 25,000 who came from Finland.

A lot of the traffic is attracted by the nuts and bolts posts I have written, the how to do material. This seems to meet a real need. Just yesterday I got an email from someone seeking advice on resolution of a very specific problem.

Finally, there is other writing that I should comment on. Yesterday in Pin Striped Prison, for example, Legal Eagle reviewed Lisa Pryor's The Pin Striped Prison, dealing with some of the issues that I have written about.

I find it hard to maintain a very active posting pattern. What I will try to do, however, is to maintain a regular posting pattern to keep the blog current.

For those to whom it is relevant, have a happy Christmas. May 2010 be a good year for all of us.   

Monday, November 30, 2009

Problems with authority and responsibility - are you guilty?

I have written a fair bit on this blog over time about problems with delegation. A key problem lies in the the grant of responsibility without real authority. This often links to a related problem: constant changes and interventions that further undermine the authority of the person meant to be doing the job.

These problems are often linked to two of the management styles I have discussed: the micro-manager and the over-enthusiastic manager.

You can check whether or not you belong to either class. Simply take a small handful of delegated jobs and monitor your own involvement. Actually write down what you do.

The observer always affects the observed. The fact that you are monitoring your own behaviour will affect that behaviour and for the better. However, you can tell what type you are by your gut reactions.

Does the act of standing back make you uncomfortable? Do you find that you have to discipline yourself not to give staff new assignments before the previous ones are completed? Do you, in fact, have a tendency to delegate and then forget, fail to follow up? Do you give one set of instructions and then actually countermand them?

You cannot change your personality, but can change the way you manage your personality. All these things give you clues that you can use to improve your own perfomance.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Decline of the professions in Australia

Over on my personal blog I have been reviewing Professor Don Aitkin's What was it all for? The Reshaping of Australia. (Allen & Unwin, Crows Nest, 2005). The first post is here, the second will come up tomorrow.

The book itself examines social change in Australia over the last fifty years in part through a prism set by the Armidale High School leaving certificate class of 1953. 

I don't think that anyone of us would not accept that the professions have declined in status and not just in Australia over the period covered by Don.  I mention this because he has some interesting material on what he perceives to be the causes of the decline in the professions in Australia.

The first thing he points to is the sheer increase in the scale of the professions. They grew and grew. Further, the growth was associated with the emergence of mini-professions, constant subdivision into smaller areas of knowledge, each with their own societies, journals and specialist knowledge.

As the numbers in the professions increased, as the number of professions also increased, so the general respect in which professionals were held declined.

The growth in the professions was linked not just to the growth of knowledge, but also to a broader process, the "professionalisation" of work. Here I want to quote Don:

Name and fame went with specialised knowledge, and the generalist became seen as someone who knew very little.

The problem is that this professionalisation process and the consequent rejection of the value of broader knowledge has aided the process of locking the professions into narrower silos that have, of themselves, reduced the effectiveness and power of the professions.

Here we get into somewhat slippery territory.

Central to the concept of a "profession" is the idea of professional independence. Without this, a profession becomes simply another occupation. I accept that the concept of independence is a difficult one. In practice, no profession has ever been completely independent, yet the ideal is still central to the professional ethics that lie at the heart of any real profession.

The killer today, as Professor Aitkin notes, is the rise of the concept of "compliance", a concept that has come to replace the old idea of professional independence,

In simple English, to comply means to obey. That is exactly the way the term is now used.

When people speak of compliance, they mean that the profession in question must comply with rules. Of course professions have always had rules, more precisely sets of ethics. However, now we are talking about externally, especially government imposed, rules.

One can mount a case for Government regulation. However, the modern use of compliance is in fact far broader than simple regulation. In a practical sense, it increasingly substitutes rules for ethics and professional standards.

To my mind, this lies at the heart of the decline of professions as professions.       

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Software patents and IP risk management

Interesting short post from Sydney lawyer Noric Dilanchian on the rising use of patents in software protection and the consequent need for software developers to do patent checks. Worth reading.

As a broader comment, Noric's overall web site including the blog remains one of the best if not the best specialist law firm web sites.   

Friday, July 17, 2009

Leader vs manager – reflections on Hitler as this blog turns three

I have been reading Mark Mazower's Hitler's Empire: Nazi rule in occupied Europe (Penguin Books, London 2009). It is quite a gripping if also depressing book.

Mazower focuses on the way Nazi Germany administered the large European empire it acquired so quickly and then lost. There is no doubt that Hitler was a great leader. He was able first to place his stamp on a nation and then lead that nation into a huge and initially successful war. He failed, something for which we can all be thankful, because he was such a bad manager.

I do not think that Hitler would have claimed to be a manager. In fact, he would have dismissed the concept. He was simply the leader. Management was the responsibility of others.

The problem is that Hitler’s own leadership approach made effective management impossible.

The Germans were very good at managing particular things, Adolf Eichman and the death camps are an example, yet the overall Nazi empire was run in an increasingly ramshackle fashion. Even those things that were effective had unforseen side effects.

Hitler’s difficulty, although he did not see things in these terms, is that he was the leader. Power was increasingly centralised in his hands. The German system dissolved into a series of satrapies each competing for the leader’s attention.

Reading the detail in Mazower left me with the very strong feeling that Nazi Germany could easily have won the Second World War or, at least, worked to a peace that preserved their core gains. The leadership that drew them into the war and gave them initial gains condemned them in the end.

Leadership versus management, that’s the rub.

When I started this blog all that time ago in July 2006, I called it managing, not leading, the professional services firm. I used the word managing deliberately, because it reflected my view that management in professional services was not very good.

In my first post on 2 July 2006 I said:

This blog has been created to encourage debate about and to provide information relevant too the management of all professional services firms.

With time, I hope that it will develop into a valuable resource.

I am not sure that I have achieved the second. However, I remain convinced that improved management in professional services is critical.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Problems with English in drafting

Recently I was preparing a funding agreement. Essentially a scissors and paste of previous documents to provide a base that could then be supplied to the lawyers for review.

In doing so, I found a major problem with language and in particular the difference between English usage in the US and the rest of the English speaking world. I found that I had to go through on a line by line basis to ensure consistency.

I mention this because in a A Licence to Spell the LexPublica blog had an interesting post on the same topic from a Canadian perspective.    

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

New statistics on Australia's legal services' sector

Short note to say that the Australian Bureau of Statistics released a new publication, Legal Services Australia 2007-2008.  It has been quite some time since we have had statistics on legal services, and unfortunately the new release is not directly comparable with the previous one. Still, there is some interesting data.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Common problems with performance indicators - complexity and control

A little while since I posted. Life has just been too busy!

During the week I had cause to look at some performance indicators. Several pages of them in table form. My heart sank because they really breached two key rules.

The first rule is simplicity. The more things you try to measure, the more complicated the indicators become, the less effective they are likely to be.

The second rule is control. If people are to be assessed using indicators, then there needs to be a link between the indicators and those elements of performance that people can control on an individual basis. With these indicators, no individual or even individual teams could guarantee results.

Sigh. I wonder how we can get the message across in an effective way. Certainly I am not very effective.