by Tom Casey, Managing Principal Discussion Partner Collaborative
Leaders of newly founded professional services firms are likely to encounter an invisible shield on the journey to success that inhibits growth and assaults confidence.
To have assumed that a plan, any plan, would be pursued sans turbulence, is as likely that Unicorn’s truly exist!
This inflection point is oftentimes when an organization hovers around 100 client/customer facing incumbents, or when geographic expansion removes line of sight to early hires.
Regardless of when this phenomenon becomes visible, adeptness and agility are required to overcome obstacles.
Discussion Partner’s recently embarked on a study of 22 firms whom are poised to grow: but struggle with the elements required to exploit their respective marketplace opportunities.
Our client experience and research suggests that there are four separate and distinct phases that have to be navigated to promote success and if not overcome, the net/net is disappointment or in extreme circumstances, extinction.
Stage 1-Trial and Error
When a firm is founded, there is unbridled optimism in support of the “big idea”.
The concept in search of a context is to address the questions, “how big, how fast, how many, how much”?
Essentially, unless the business model is a planned smallness, there is a hope that a growth trajectory can be promoted.
Assuming there is a market for the big idea, the “now what” question arises.
Unless an owner/founder or initial population has a crystal ball, regardless of leadership sophistication, there are four areas that have to be incorporated into the business model.
- How to manage the numbers, or more importantly how do the founders gain an understanding of the undeniable truths represented in the “financials”
- How to create the infrastructure balancing need vs. cost, vs. an understanding of implication whether it is IT, Real Estate, Finance, Marketing, Logistics, Human Capital, or alternative foundations, the need is to manage the platform or run the risk of funding Chateau Briand on a Cheeseburger budget
- How to manage population control how many, doing what, measured by, and consequent engagement outcomes….the successful prosecution of this element is the secret sauce for growth.
- How to avoid self-delusion confronting vs. ignoring the inevitable dislocations on the journey regarding leadership style and dealing with disappointments.
Stage 2 Aspiration Plateau
Assuming the founder or founders survive Stage 1 without accepting the job at Pottery Barn or becoming a recluse on a mountain, the joy and rapture only continues.
The second stage is true channel management, how does the company and it’s leaders make the “great leap forward” into the realization that all successful lessons learned, have to be challenged with the operating mentality of “slash and burn”.
This is a provocative way of having to address the question of “what no longer works”?
This is true pain as it encompasses:
- Culture-degree of formality vs. informality
- People-the rack and stack of folks in terms of alliance with growth vs. achievement against more modest expectations while appearing to disregard loyalty
- Access-how to prioritize where and with whom do senior leaders spend their time
- Keeping Score-raising the bar in respect to goals, expectations and accountability
All of the above require decisiveness. Moving slowly or even worse ignoring the need to address, has unfortunate outcomes.
The replenishment question requires the embryonic but seemingly stable enterprise to address the following:
- The need to raise the average IQ by saying goodbye to “originator” staff, and hiring newer folks whom have a commercial mentality
- The need to have an on-going economic, psychic, or material cost vs. benefit mentality whereby necessary vs. nice is the criteria for adjudication of moving forward or disposal
- The need to hold people accountable where the “dog ate my homework” excuse is substituted with the metaphor of “I am the dog and although cute, can bite”
- The need to think of client experience, infrastructure, innovation and new product/service offerings as interdependent “projects” with time-lines, resources, and success metrics that need to be taken as serious as marriage vows, as if not addressed results in a depletion of resources similar to divorce attorneys
- The need to recognize it is better to move fast and make mistakes vs. be overly deliberative applies ….the metaphor of speed now elegance later is the desired attribute
- To address all of the above in the context of a framework or “plan” where there is prediction, milestones, and clear definitions of success
Stage 4-Momentry Sustainability
Presuming your survival at least for the time being, you need to conduct a realistic assessment reminiscent of the French Resistance workers in World War ll, “am I a boy, playing a soldier, whom can cause damage” or “am I a pretender in hopes that I will survive with a glorious reputation” or “an unselfish contributor to the war effort.”
All answers are negotiable, the lack of introspection however is not! Regardless of conclusions, there is a need to embed the lessons learned on the journey into a leadership style that promotes ambitious strategy supported by an aligned organizational model.
As important is a need to a) promote collaboration, b) be the poster child or children for unselfish behavior, and c) think of yourself from now on as the surfer whom is relentlessly outpacing the wave.
Firefighters do not sit around waiting for the fire, they train as if the fire will take place in the next 15 minutes….Special Forces, do not just bulk up, they develop and train against possible scenarios to stay edgy.
In the commercial sector, self-satisfaction, complacency, and forgetfulness of how hard it is to become successful and even harder to sustain this achievement, are self-destructive.
Some interesting statistics combining multiple sources.
- Since 1980 84% of “new” consultancies have lasted less than 5 years
- In the same time frame, 63% have not achieved 100 client facing incumbents
- In the same time frame 71% of those entities which did not achieve the 5 year time frame disaggregated into a firm of less than 10
Putting one’s faith in the continuance of a successful platform as the status quo is risky!
Failure like Clint Eastwood is constantly in the background saying “go ahead make my day!”