Don’t hang on to the day job, manage your team and organisation instead

CEOs can cling to the myth, particularly in professional service firms, that they can continue to focus on their specialist work and a full client load. Someone needs to manage the place, so how do you make your organisation work when you’ve reached that critical point in its development? Kate Mercer explains.

Are you an accountant, a lawyer, an architect or a property specialist? Have you grown your personal service into a partnership or company employing other professionals like yourself offering your services to a larger group of clients over a wider area? If so, then you may find you’ve fallen into a common trap encountered by professional services specialists as their organisations grow larger.

Here’s an example:

Theo is an experienced financial adviser with a large and loyal client base, many of whom he knows personally. In fact, he’s been involved with his clients for so long that he sometimes advises three generations of one family. He’s hugely proud of the relationships he has built up over many years, and passionate about the difference good financial advice can make to people’s lives.

Twelve years ago, Theo started to grow his business, first hiring back-office staff to help him provide a wider range of services to more people, then gradually bringing other financial advisers under his umbrella. Some of the latter brought a body of new clients to the business and a have grown their client portfolio, so that the business as a whole now serves more than two hundred clients, and employs around 60 people. As the business has grown, Theo and his senior adviser colleagues have encountered various frustrations, chief among them being a complaint that they don’t have enough time to do the job any more. Staff members are always interrupting, to ask for advice on work, to get something checked, or, most frustrating of all, to share some worry or concern that they have about their position in the company, their progress, or some internal issue with another department.

“If only the staff would get on with their work,” goes the complaint, “I’d be able to see more clients and bring in more business.” Meanwhile the staff complain that nobody ever seems to be available to supervise their work or provide them with mentoring and advice, and a number of them are muttering about leaving to go “somewhere where we’ll be appreciated and have a future.” Theo would be horrified if he knew…

In fact, what Theo and his professional colleagues have failed to understand is that they have now grown their organisation to a size where it and the people in it have needs of their own. The professional advisers can no longer spend 100% of their time on client work, important though this is, but need to give thought and time to developing their staff.

There’s a mental block for them to overcome here. Many senior people who, like Theo, take enormous pride in their work, believe that their clients want to work with them and them only. Theo feels a huge personal connection and responsibility towards individual clients and their families, and cannot see that he could ever delegate some or all of the work of servicing them to more junior staff. A pity, because his junior staff are itching to help both him and the clients, and they could be the future leaders of Theo’s company. It could be a real win:win. If Theo continues to resist, he’ll start losing staff, will restrict the growth of his business, and ultimately no longer be able to provide the service he’s so proud of to his loyal clients.

Theo needs to reduce his time and focus on personally delivering his own expertise, and learn to deliver the same-quality service via his management of his team of up-and-coming young specialists. In fact, their training and development as future leaders of the organisation is a crucial part of his new role.

This is a hugely misunderstood mechanism in growing organisations. Many senior leaders in larger organisations try to hang on to the day-job they entered the organisation to do, whether it’s getting their sleeves rolled up and their hands dirty helping to sort out something on the factory floor, or shutting the door on their team to get time to get on with the job in peace.

Like Theo, what all these leaders have missed is that their whole job needs to change its focus as they rise to the top of their organisation and become responsible for the performance, experience and career development of more junior team members. Management is now an increasingly large part of the day-job. This vital role is not one that you can carry out with half your mind during the (non-existent) spare time you have after you’ve finished a full-time specialist role – it’s a crucial role in its own right, and deserves to have time and attention paid to it.

Kate Mercer has recently been writing about how your organisation changes as it grows, from an energetic toddler stage (first generation, or 1G), to the moody teenager stage (second generation, 2G), before it reaches (if it ever does) the relative calm and maturity of the adult stage (third generation, 3G). It’s a way of looking at your organisation that is unfamiliar to most business leaders, especially professional services experts who are hugely trained and experienced in their professional skill, but generally not experienced or trained as managers. It’s why keeping tabs on everything often seems to get harder over time as your organisation grows. Perhaps the answer is to make some simple changes to your management style? Over the next few months, Kate will be writing articles on the most common mistakes people make in running 2G organisations, and how to start to change your thinking. This is the fifth in the series – read the first ‘Do you assume the organisation is ‘yours’ and running it is all down to you?‘ and second ‘SME with big business aspirations? Don’t put the cart before the horse