The UK has long suffered from weak productivity. We produce less per working hour than many of our friends in the G7, a fact that’s remained stubbornly true with little sign of improvement since the 2008 global financial crisis. One theory as to why is that the UK economy has a long tail of small companies, which have lower than average productivity.
Is there a parallel among professional services firms?
Most professional services firms follow the partnership model—each area has its own specialism, headed by a partner who owns that particular operating unit. Each unit is effectively a small business, moulded and grown by a partner acting in a CEO role. It’s a model that’s been wildly successful in the past, in part because it encourages competition between partners who take pride in reporting bigger and bigger revenue figures. The more they sell, the more important they are in the firm—and we all know quite a few partners who enjoy feeling important.
But with the surge of multidisciplinary work—which is quickly cannibalising traditional work—this model has come under strain. Partners now need to work with each other to meet their clients’ more complex needs. Perhaps more challenging is that partners need to be confident talking to clients about all the capabilities their firm offers, not just what their unit does. Crucially, they need to be comfortable knitting their firm’s breadth of services into something that feels like a seamless solution. In short, they need to transition from selling point solutions to being true account managers.
What has this got to do with productivity? Well, stick with the old way of doing things—Bob in supply chain sells Bob’s supply chain work—and your firm could become like the UK economy: fragmented and nowhere near as productive as it could be. Up your account management game and your firm could be selling not just more work, but bigger pieces of work that speak to clients’ most challenging issues. If all partners act as true account managers then the whole is greater than the sum of its parts: it moves the firm up the value chain.