Eva van der Fluit
management consultant


Strategy development, and the realisation of it, is an ongoing process. This is best expressed through the following recent cases:

>  Partners who agree on the basics

Professional service firms often have more than one
owner. If the owners have different aspirations,
strategy development becomes difficult if not impossible.

In this case, the executive board wanted to make these differences more manageable. The factors causing these differences had to do with the age of the partners or work/ life preferences. The position of their own practice within the firm also played a role, as did the degree to which the partners were entrepreneurs and were willing to take risks.

In a few meetings, these differences were explicitly stated, clarified and made manageable. Thereafter, they were able to begin a “normal” strategy development process and they knew what could be expected from one another.

>  The client of tomorrow

Most professionals operate within a highly competitive market. Why does a client keep coming back to a particular professional service firm when there are so many to choose from?

Smart professionals not only know why their clients keep coming back, they can also pinpoint what their clients’ future needs will be. This is often researched by a marketing agency.

In this case, it was the partners themselves who interviewed desirable future clients (both existing and new) about the development of their needs. This resulted in an adjustment to their services portfolio.

>  Strategy development with all professionals

Like external agencies, staff departments with internal professionals need their own strategy. Why would their internal clients make use of them? How do they differentiate themselves from the external market? When do they work with external professionals and how?

In this case it was market growth that led to a high degree of pressure and stress at work. This gave cause for them to reflect on their own profile. Three groups went to work. One brought the needs of internal clients to light, another visited three other organisations that are doing well. The third group analysed its own department and determined what changes needed to be made.

The results were compiled during a two-day meeting. Under direction of the head of the department, the action plan, decided upon, was implemented.

>  Transferring implicit professional vision to newcomers

Lifetime employment is a thing of the past and it’s the young professionals who make the bottom of the pyramid unstable. Learning their profession from older colleagues via a junior - medior - senior construction doesn’t work anymore.

In this case, the executive board was looking for an alternative. Using previous cases as examples, the dilemmas of the profession were made explicit and the partners indicated what the firm’s distinguishing vision is. This was the starting point for the introduction training of new employees and intervision.

In another case, a PhD student researched the way in which the profession is practised within the firm as well as its effectiveness. This PhD research was the starting point for internal discussion, intervision sessions and meetings with the client.

>  Leadership, aligned with the strategy

An adjustment to the strategy usually means an adjustment to what is demanded from the leaders. Leadership in professional organisations often brings little status. It is associated with tedious tasks such as budgeting and invoicing or with slick salesman types who know how to push their product.

In this case, the view of leadership was aligned with the demands of the new strategy.

Leaders were then given the chance to develop these qualities that, in this case, mainly included entrepreneurship and a more thorough coaching of juniors, resulting in more realistic self images.

>  Partner evaluation start-up

Partners usually fulfil more than one role, namely as skilled professional, trainer, salesperson and leader. However, not everyone is capable of doing all these things. Being part of a healthy partnership means being a mirror for each other.

Not all partners practise this form of peer-to-peer evaluation and starting the process is often the most complicated step. What is left unsaid very often leads to reluctance to begin the process. An evaluation process thus calls for courage from everyone involved.

In this case, a lexicon was given to facilitate truthful communication, which was combined with a predictable and safe procedure. Because professionals learn quickly, they were able to do the second evaluation without external help.

>  Decision-making with 120 professionals

Once a year, most firms will organise a few days in the countryside for the purpose of discussing a number of important issues. When the group is larger than 15, an in-depth discussion is thought to be impossible. If this is the case, the preferred programme consists of a few lecturers followed by a round of questions and answers.
This could be done better! Methods of facilitating in-depth discussions and decision making within large groups (50 – 500 people) now exist.

In this case, a group of 120 professionals, English and French speaking, decided on their strategic priorities. A method can be designed for every topic to facilitate an inspiring and worthwhile meeting.