Is your firm using its partners’ time effectively?

Being a leader in any industry is hard enough—but it’s arguably even harder in professional services than most. In the majority of corporate roles, anyone who reaches a certain level of seniority has the luxury of being able to largely step back from day-to-day operations; the people making key strategic decisions at Walmart or Tesco don’t have to spend one day a week on the shop floor, for example.

But the professional services industry doesn’t really work like that: The vast majority of partners at any given firm still need to spend a hefty chunk of their time on the day-to-day work of delivering client projects. Indeed, a big part of the reason that so many clients choose to work with top tier firms is that they want to benefit from the knowledge and the experience of those firms’ partners.

The upshot of this is a situation in which the typical partner is almost constantly being pulled in a myriad of different directions. And our recent research suggests that this problem has, if anything, become even more acute over the last few years.

As we’ve written about many times before, consulting is becoming an increasingly technology-driven field. And far from helping, this creates yet another time sink for partners. No longer are they solely looking after their own human consulting teams, they now also have to spend almost as much time managing and developing their asset base.

At a certain point, one has to wonder when this overstretch will start to impact the client experience. While delivery still makes up the single largest component of a typical partner’s time (21%), that’s across all different projects they’re involved with. Once you account for the fact that partners work on an average of 4.7 different projects simultaneously, that sliver of time starts looking smaller and smaller…

This is just one of the reasons that so many firms are currently in the process of rethinking the structure of their partnership. It does indeed look like the old “everyone does everything” model may soon be on its way out. Increasingly, we hear examples of firms creating formal or informal categories of partners—parceling out the responsibility of delivery, business development, and people/technology management to different subsets of the partnership, each of whom has their own evaluation framework.

Regardless of whether that solution works for your firm, it’s probably time to start taking the issue of “workload bloat” seriously—before your clients start to notice it, and go elsewhere.

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