Thoughts on ways to improve the management of professional services firms

Friday, October 27, 2006

Professional Services Management - Conversations

This post reports briefly on some of the conversations I have been involved with on and off line, as well as interesting posts I have seen.

David Anderson of View Italy (one of my favourite soul blogs: just look at his latest story on cheese) has launched a new blog called Small Business USA focused on his professional work as a private equity adviser. The blog is still new, only seven posts, but includes a range of material relevant to those interested in professional services. For example, his post on Is it a Business or a Job raises very similar issues to those that I have been trying to get across in my comments on the self employed professional vs the business builder.

Noric Dilanchian continues to add superb content to his site. I really enjoyed his post on a recipe to make a high net worth chef. Perhaps Alaric 1 would indeed have demanded a different ransom to leave Rome unsacked!

Noric spoke during the week as a Sydney lawyers' seminar on precedent automation. He and I have been working together over many years on knowledge management issues through our joint involvement with the Ndarala Group. Knowledge management is not easy because it starts not with technology but with management analysis. At some stage (I say some stage because the quantity of things I want to write about seems to just keep on expanding) I will take some case studies here.

Those who read this blog will know that improving people management in professional services is one of my obsessions (here for a summary of previous posts). Bruce MacEwen's Adam Smith blog had an interesting story on Allen & Overy's attempts to improve associate retention. The story begins:

Associate retention/attrition may have always been a chronic problem for the (legal) industry, but is it only me or is the situation actually deteriorating? Annual attrition rates of 25% at AmLaw 50 and UK 50 firms are now widely reported, and as I previously noted one downtown NYC firm lost 7 of its first-year class of 25 associates between September, when they arrived, and the following April over just 7 months.

This is a real problem that affects firm profitability across many professional services areas. Take the cost including time of graduate recruitment. Add to it the training costs including time for first year training. Then divide it by the number retained at the end of the second year to get an average cost per head. The results may frighten you. Keeping staff is not rocket science. Why, then, are so many firms bad at it?

I have to be careful about commenting on Chris Marston's Inside the Firm of the Future simply because I do not want to make it seem as the though the whole thing is just a two way conversation between the two of us. I think that Chris is suffering from the problem than many of us suffer from, the challenge of getting readers to respond.

Personal Reflections, my personal blog, now gets a steady stream of comments if from a very small group. I value this enormously. Each respondee is of great value, even that very small number ofanonymouss nasty responses. But it all takes time. So Chris, keep plugging away, you obviously have readers, and I will keep commenting if sometimes biting my tongue!

Because I regard each of my favoured blogs as a personal friend, I do regular searches looking at people who have linked to them in some way. Here Chris's blog led me to Jay Shepherd's Gruntled Employees blog. Jay, I like you comments on work-life balance.

This morning I chaired a meeting of Plan4Life, a small JV that I am chairing on behalf of a client. Our first multi-disciplinary training offering on estate planning being developed in conjunction with the University of Technology, Sydney, should launch in March next year.

I will brief on this later. For the moment, I simply note that this JV encapsulates another of the messages that I am trying to get across on this blog, the need for new approaches that will break down the silos separating the professions so that we can move towards a truly multi-disciplinary approach.

Enough for the moment.


Travel Italy said...

Jim, thanks for the plug!!!

Jim Belshaw said...

It's well deserved, David.

Jay Shepherd said...

Jim, thanks for including me in the conversation. I look forward to reading your blog and learning more about your passion for improving people management in professional services. How we approach client service, how we bill clients, and how we retain talented people are all intertwined. Thanks again!

Jim Belshaw said...

It was a pleasure, Jay.

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