I was asked a question after an address at a business forum recently. It really stopped me in my tracks! It was a great question:
“Andrew, in your experience, what makes a really great firm?”
Various answers flashed through my brain.
Was it great clients who valued their professional advice and didn’t try to screw them down on price every time?
Was it great projects to work on that inspired the whole firm and gave them prestige within our particular professional discipline?
Was it positive team members with “can do” attitudes who were willing to have a go and accept responsibility for their particular areas?
Was it modern technology and equipment that allowed efficient and effective work to be done consistently throughout the whole firm?
Was it a great premises with natural light and an energy efficient design that acted as a brand endorsement for the firm?
Was it great fellow directors with positive outlooks and supportive attitudes who worked as a complementary team?
Was it well-structured business processes that allowed them to manage liquidity, job profitability and compliance easily week by week?
Was it a cleverly positioned brand backed up by a schedule of regular eNews articles, networking activities, client visits and post job reviews?
Then I realised that it was all these things!
But another light bulb went off the moment this thought entered my head; it was all these things but one single factor seemed to be required before all these things could be achieved.
And that was a contagious positive energy coming from the directors; their excitement about the firm and its work; their confidence in each other; their tolerance for each other’s behavioural styles and quirks; their enthusiasm for working with clients and team members.
In a nutshell, the energy and generosity they bring to work each day.
Yes, this was the single thing that stood out as the main factor in all my truly great advisory firms – and I’ve worked with thousands of firms over my 35-year career. Without it, the firm was always less than it might be.
Then my questioner asked another great question:
“So Andrew, given your thirty-five years of involvement with us, where does the energy and generosity come from and can it be grown?”
I was stopped in my tracks again.
Yes, definitely, I thought. It can absolutely be grown – but not by attending a motivational session with the latest ‘lifestyle guru’ speaker charging thousands for a day’s haranguing!
All my great firms have leaders who serve their firms:
– They have a set of cornerstone values that team members are comfortable working with;
– They are fit (not necessarily thin) and make time to keep fit… it makes them resilient;
– They have learned to ask and listen hard first, and then act;
– They have other interests they pursue with singular commitment;
– They support their loved ones and give time to them so they can pursue their interests with singular commitment;
– Of course, this comes back to them in supportive energy from their loved ones, which builds further resilience (funny that!);
– They understand differing behavioural styles and realise that different form isn’t wrong – it’s just different form;
– They cherish the variety of behaviours and different communication styles in others.
You can feel the vibes when you walk into these firms… it’s fantastic.
– They are collegiate in their planning and decision making; they are supportive towards one another; they definitely still take time to run annual strategic planning events involving their senior management groups;
– They set quarterly strategic improvement initiatives and involve their whole team in working on the implementation of planned actions;
– They involve the whole team in setting budgets and KPI’s and the monitoring of them;
– They offer the same involvement with their better clients as a specialised service;
– They make sure they build their energy, vitality and generosity by the following life habits:
– Creating time to exercise daily (perhaps saying “no thank you” to tyre-kicking clients to get it)
– Learning about their behavioural differences and communication preferences to grow their tolerances;
– Eating well, sleeping well and looking after their physical temple;
– Celebrating the great things their team achieves.
A trusted professional advisor needs energy to give to clients to be successful; this is a neglected factor in creating a successful firm.
Saying “no” to too much work, unrealistic deadlines, cheap work and unethical requests and focussing on building personal energy, fitness and resilience really defines my truly great directors and their firms.
Getting consensus between directors on these issues requires quality communication time.
In my experience, strategic planning is vital to achieving this consensus and team work between directors.
It’s about creating a positive work culture in which people flourish.
Enjoy the journey.
Andrew Geddes B.Com., Dip. Fin. Mgt., M. Ec., FCPA, FAICD.
Andrew Geddes has been facilitating strategic planning retreats for professional service firms for 35 years. He has been the external chairman of dozens of professional service firms over the same time. He is currently a non-executive director on the board of Greencross Limited, a top 200 ASX veterinary and pet retail company. He was chairman for the first 7 years and oversaw the company’s exceptional growth in that period.
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