This article is not intended for those of you who are looking to grow your business by 5% or even 10%. Yes, you may have challenges, but many of you want to reach the Promised Land more quickly, and you don’t want your story to be a case study about another failed attempt. In a previous article I spoke about disasters which occur when professional services organizations ignore the need for leadership development throughout their organization. This article picks up where that one left off. Aside from the obvious needs to enable your consultants with tools and methodologies, your people will need a set of disciplines that not only moves everybody forward at a more rapid pace, but incorporates mechanisms or processes that help manage the increased risk that comes with larger more complex projects. Projects which are being delivered by a team of people who are not only less experienced, but have never worked together. To put all this in place, and ensure that the processes are followed, leadership needs to be infused into the organization and encouraged.
For companies to be successful they need to be growing. They must be expanding into new markets or bringing on new clients in their current market. Some industries find it much easier to grow than others. In the software business it can be simply a matter of expanding the sales force or increasing the penetration in existing accounts. Growth in the professional services industry is more difficult. To grow a professional services organization you need to increase sales, but you also need to grow your professional services staff. Growing a professional services staff is much more difficult than generating more copies of your software or allowing more customers to download the software from your server. Your professional services staff needs to be recruited and trained. The recruitment and training of new consultants is a challenge of and by itself, and in that regard companies put a lot of effort into the process of bringing new people onboard and making sure they have the technical skills required to deliver quality work to their clients. Unfortunately many firms focus all their attention on those activities, thinking that this is all that is required, and fail to focus on the obstacles that are the greatest inhibitors to growth in professional services.
Let me be clear, if you are growing incrementally (say 5% or 10%) each year, absorbing the increase in new consultants is not as big a challenge. If you are facing the kind of challenges I have had to face, quadrupling the size of a professional services organization in less than three years, this is a whole different ball game.
Leadership and Beliefs
A few years ago I was challenged with driving the growth of the professional services arm of a mid-sized software company. I had been hired to build the professional services organization but it wasn’t until I had been in the job a few months that I realized how quickly and by how much the growth needed to happen. I was told that we had to increase our annual revenue from $10 million to $40 million in three years. It was clear that we would need to recruit and train a large number of technical consultants to reach our goal. What was not as clear was the need to develop leadership throughout the world and maybe more importantly, fundamentally change the beliefs of the people throughout the company.
When I tell people about the need for leadership, I frequently get a quizzical look followed by a question as to why we would need more than a handful of leaders at the top of the organization. At this point I help my audience understand the need for leadership throughout an organization, particularly a professional services organization. For sure there is a need for leadership at the top to set the long term vision and keep the whole organization motivated and moving in the right direction. Unfortunately, even with today’s technologies, it is impossible for a small group of leaders to be everywhere in the world when decisions need to be made, when staff need to be motivated, when clients need to see the vision of where our work is taking them or when our staff need to be recognized for their contributions. Probably the most critical need for leadership is to take responsibility to train, develop and supervise all the new hires coming into the company. Absorbing an army of new consultants into your organization, considering they have a wide variety of experiences and backgrounds, can be an impossible task without skilled leaders on the ground in all of your offices. Training programs and boot camps are essential, but are a waste of time if the leadership isn’t in place to ensure that the concepts are reinforced and consistently applied.
As for the beliefs I referred to, this was even a bigger challenge, and one I had not anticipated. To start with, our sales team did not believe that our customers would agree to pay for professional services. After all, they had been giving services away for years, and our competitors rarely charged for professional services. My directors believed that services we were offering did provide value and that customers would pay for the services; but they did not believe we could grow as rapidly as we were being asked to grow. Our consultants and trainers also found it hard to believe that our business would support a professional services organization with 350 – 400 professionals, and our customer support group did not believe our services were necessary. Overcoming these beliefs was not only a daunting task it was critical to our success, as nothing can be accomplished that is not first believed to be possible.
As I reflect on our successful journey from $10 million to $55 million in less than 3 years, I recall the following steps:
• Establish a significant goal (bordering on being unbelievable).
• Understand what habits or paradigms must be changed in order for the goal to be realized. Identify and begin implementing the new habits.
• Ensure that everyone on the team not only believes the goals are achievable but are bought in to the changes which must occur to accomplish the goals.
• Take steps to overcome fear
• Develop an Attitude
• Build Leadership
• Take off!