Is doing nothing an option for the Professional and Service sectors?
6 September 2005
Over the past 15 years or so the Professional and Service sectors have developed and changed the way they operate and deliver services, at an increasingly accelerated pace. Few working in these areas could dispute this if you take time to reflect how it was, back in the late ‘80s to early ‘90s and before. There was little technology, no functional support for the Partners / Directors, and a management style that reflected a ‘Master and Slave’ culture. Firms expected clients to visit them, that the work would come in through the door, that client loyalty was assumed. Those who worked in these businesses viewed themselves lucky, that they had jobs for life with a strict hierarchy and progression for those who were qualified. There was little or no expectation of changing the way they worked, took responsibility for their actions or behaved. It was all very reactive, steady and predictable.
Few if any Partners or Directors would have forecast how the Professional and Service businesses would look today. To get to this new way of working and thinking has required a phenomenal degree of change – and yet it has often been with a reluctant acceptance and a high degree of doubt that changes have been implemented at all. The need to get buy-in, to shift thinking, to operate differently has required effort from those leading the businesses.
Concepts such as image and branding, value-added services, having to win work, to market services, all reflect a mind set that is recognising that the world being serviced needs a different type of service from these businesses: even more so if they wish to be at the front of the pack.
Not all the changes have been good though. There are examples of one firm introducing an IT system worth @£1m or so and then scraping it a year later; of firms merging / acquiring niche practices and then these disintegrating in less than 2 years.
So how do you sustain this sense of urgency, to keep the impetus going, when the majority of your colleagues, who were reluctant to implement the changes in the first place, are now ‘exhausted’ by the endlessness of it all? After all, innovation has risks attached to it, not least that you may get the solution wrong.
Change is here, it is the one constant in our lives. So businesses need to plan for change and be innovative by making it easier to introduce and implement changes. Inherent in any change management is the need for:
- a clear, objective understanding of where you are now and the scope to develop / change / improve / innovate
- sound information on what is possible, the benefits, implications, costs and amount of time to achieve that change and realise the benefits
- an effective decision making process that encourages lots of ideas and options with a champion to lead the change
- support from outside consultants to provide expertise, save time and keep focussed
- methods for gaining buy in from the top, and so cascade this to everyone else
- effective project management with a timetable of actions, responsibilities and measures of success.
- regular reviews of progress and information to those not immediately involved
- recognition that the change opted for, will in itself need to be changed soon…..
- ….. or do nothing!
The old adage that ‘what gets measured gets done’, is a great mantra. However, with some of these changes, especially if more cultural or around softer issues, they may not be as easy to measure. If the over riding desire is to have to ‘measure it’, to get the buy-in from the Doubting Thomas’s, this may inhibit the speed with which you keep innovating and changing.
The options when making decisions include doing nothing. The difference between those who move forward and those who don’t is that they recognise this option. Doing nothing may be the right decision. It may also be the result of apathy or a lack of conviction. Review key challenges in your business. Was the ‘do nothing’ option chosen and was this for the right reasons? Look at how you approach innovation and generating ideas, your appetite for risk.
Sometimes innovative ideas may seem hard and risky, but the consequences of doing nothing may be just as hard and risky.
- What are you not facing up to?
- What have you put off for too long?
- What should you have done better to make the changes more effective?
Patricia Wheatley Burt has over 15 years consultancy experience in the legal sector and managing director of Trafalgar – The People Business.
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