Three things to help you delegate and be more productive


Delegation increases average professionals’ earnings by 20% 

Almost anyone with a job and colleagues can delegate… theory.  In practice, the picture is not so rosy.  Those who can’t or won’t because they believe “it’s quicker to do it myself”, are overly insecure, or who enjoy ‘doing’ too much and the task of efficiently running their departments or work portfolios too little.

Which is a shame because delegating well can make a big difference – up to 50% in improved earnings for the most highly-skilled senior individuals willing to take the plunge*.  Not to mention a beneficial reduction in the number of stressed-out task junkies, frustrated juniors who are not allowed to develop (and so leave), and in the worst cases, clients who are also dissatisfied and go elsewhere.  The strong desire of professionally-trained people always to want to do the best possible job is perfectly understandable.  But there should be no dilemma if this is at the expense of personal, business or staff health.

Here are three tips that can help your delegation work properly – and more profitably.

It’s not an egg… of the biggest sins is to sit on a piece of work, perhaps for days or weeks, only delegating at the last moment.  This presents the recipient with a double challenge: coping with the work delegated and juggling their often heavy existing workload and commitments.  Reluctant delegators sometimes perceive that such a tactic will somehow stimulate the poor recipient into glorious action as “it’s an emergency!”.  It won’t.  More likely, it will only inspire future dread of the same thing happening again and a ‘run for the hills’ response.

Be SMART  Assuming that a task has been appropriately delegated, nine times out of 10 it will only go wrong if instructions are not made clearly or comprehensively enough.  Here, the old management saw of SMART needs to be applied.

Make sure first that you are Specific – it is very easy to give vague instructions that can be misinterpreted. The task must also be Measurable, so define clearly what successful performance will look like and result in; then Agreed (the recipient contributing to what is agreed rather than being just told); Realistic (giving unreasonable targets does not set people up for success: it is what is realistic for THEM not YOU); and finally Time-bound, with clear, specific deadlines and milestones.

Take the buck  You can delegate authority but not responsibility.  Overcoming the psychological barriers to delegation is the biggest challenge.  Doing it is the second.  Then recognising that we must still take responsibility for what is delegated is the final achievement – whether the job is successful or not.  If it’s a success, take and hand out the plaudits; if not, be brave enough to take the rap (rather than pass it).

James Newberry runs People Scope, a consultancy, training and coaching firm working with lawyers, accountants and other technical specialists to help them operate successfully outside of their comfort zones.

* Harvard Business Review, “Research: Delegating More Can Increase Your Earnings”, Thomas N. Hubbard, August 2016


Three tips to make your sector plans work better


Most professional firms have a marketing and BD approach focused on business sectors – but are they getting the best out of them? Here are three things that could help.

Business sectors are ‘de rigueur’ with firms proclaiming their expertise in and focus on clients or prospects who inhabit them. Plans are written, budgets committed, time allocated and money expended in furthering the collective ambition to serve and grow. If this is not done well, much can be (and is) wasted. From experience of being asked to take a long hard look at whether value is being delivered, these are the ‘basics’ to get right.

Define properly  If your firm has a proliferation of sector groups to serve, this is probably not happening. With a dozen or more such groups it is extremely unlikely that real benefit will be delivered. For example, having ‘groups’ that comprise only a few organisations is daft from so many viewpoints – not least the time wasted in bringing so many (expensive) people together to meet regularly. Control sector proliferation so that effort and budgets focus and concentrate for maximum impact.

Analyse rigorously: inside and out  The right sector strategy stands or falls on the quality of data and interpretation of what is happening in each market vs. the firm’s true competitive position. Both insights are achieved via thorough research and intelligent analysis. In truth, most professionals (and some marketeers) are not highly experienced in doing this. So you can end up with sector plans that are either free of any real examination (resulting in a schedule of unjustified and wasteful activity). Or they are so stuffed with reams of unfiltered, uncritiqued data that they provide an equal lack of perception and direction……but do make good door-stops.

Organise sensibly  Choose sound, properly representative sector teams and leaders so that the right people make their contributions. If you don’t, the groups end up being inefficiently run, sometimes as mouthpieces for a few “influential” individuals or stuffed with representatives of one department or practice area.

James Newberry runs People Scope, a consultancy, training and coaching firm working with lawyers, accountants and other technical specialists to help them operate successfully outside of their comfort zones.


Making sales meetings matter


Professional firms spend a lot of time, money and effort to deliver sales opportunities for their fee earners…and then what?

Well, whilst not exactly a horror show, sending doughty directors, partners or others, unprepared, into the board rooms of the potential client world can be a risky business.

“They didn’t have much to say, so I just told them about us and what we do” 

“They didn’t need my type of advice, so I cut my losses and got out quick”

Being a ‘walking talking brochure’ for the firm, or just focusing on your own specific area of expertise isn’t what these meetings should be about.  Here are three ways to make the whole experience more productive for everyone involved.

Do your homework  We know that business-knowledgeable professionals are much prized by existing clients, don’t we?  Just so with prospective ones too.  It takes only a few clicks of the mouse (or a call to the Marketing Department) to access a lot of detailed and useful information on organisations and their activities.  As well as  searching any trading or pre-trading history we have had.  This information can be VERY useful in spotting opportunities to discuss, and impress prospects that you have done your “homework”.  Invest this time: it will pay dividends.

Do an agenda  We know a lot of so-called professional sales people in the world outside the professions who would not dream of doing this.  Often, they are the unsuccessful ones who conduct unfocused meetings that get nowhere (usually very slowly!).  A well-produced agenda will organise your own thoughts, information needs, objectives, and ideas.  Shared with the prospect beforehand, it will involve him/her in the process of making the meeting truly productive.

Let’s talk about YOU  The main aim of new business meetings is to uncover potential needs from the prospect for any of the services we might offer, not to impress them with your detailed knowledge of the contents of the firm’s brochure.  It’s first about questions, not statements or claims.

Billing psychology and the better meeting of minds


One of the things that used to annoy a lot of clients was sloppy billing practice from their advisers – it still does.

To your average professional, billing is often the humdrum (and, in some branches, embarrassing) bit that follows the interesting bit – doing the work.  To the client, it is the ever-important bit, by which a significant part of their job performance is evaluated (i.e. the efficient management of budgets).

Such perceptual disjoin is at the heart of much of the problem.  Allowed to build up over time, annoyance can turn to something much more damaging to the relationship, so here are three quick, practical things for you or your professionals to keep the client bill-happy.

Don’t delegate!  We spend quite a lot of time encouraging senior perofessionals to delegate more of their work appropriately – for good leverage’s sake.  However, one of the rule-breaking exceptions can be when preparing and issuing bills.  Why?

Because getting a bill from someone you don’t know (and who therefore looks like they might not know your transaction) can be interpreted as rude and uncaring by the recipient.  Staying with a matter from start to finish and devoting a sensible amount of time to the bill yourself will mean fewer problems and a smoother client relationship.

Be a flexible friend  Do you always present bills in the firm’s ‘house style’?  If you do, you may be creating a source of additional effort and trouble for some clients as they have to unpick the firm’s data and re-present it internally in ways that their organisations can better understand.

The smart relationship managers recognise this issue and ask clients up-front how they would like their bills to be presented.  Even if it requires a bit more effort on our part, it’s well worth it for the goodwill that is generated….. as is ensuring that other parts of the firm do likewise if they also work for the client.

Avoid the ‘sausage factory’ look  There is an interesting aspect of billing psychology that is well worth remembering.  Bills that look like they have come off a production line can tend to invite more scrutiny – and thus the greater risk of write-offs or delayed payment – because some clients say that they mistrust such systematic treatment.

To overcome this, find simple ways to personalise the invoice – e.g. by adding manuscript amendments or a signed personal note – so that they know you are still involved and in control.

Getting the professional leadership “thing”

It is a truth universally acknowledged that most professionals are employed and achieve success primarily for their technical expertise.  This can make leadership and other skills “nice to have” rather than essential.  If it occurs at all, leadership development can happen only by accident.  As a result, sadly, some firms get the leaders they deserve.

“The process of influencing others to achieve their and the firm’s goals successfully” 

If this is an accurate definition of leadership, then it is a skill required not just at partner or director level, but for anyone in an influencing position or role throughout your firm – including you? Here are three tips that focus on simple, practical issues that leaders at all levels must address to be a more positive influence.  Of course, we all know that leadership is about many other things…

Do what made Alexander great  Now we are not suggesting that warfare is an exact model for business or professional services!  The point is though that Alexander the Great inspired the fiercest devotion in his soldiers (and achieved the unachievable as a result) by sharing some of the burden and privations of his armies personally, especially when things got tight. We contrast this with numerous war stories we have listened to of senior personnel in firms regularly leaving the long hour, tough deadline assignments entirely to junior staff – all of whom were suitably inspired as a result.  Not.

You are in a goldfish in a bowl.. Interviewing staff at all levels in a major firm a few years ago, we were struck by how many negative myths were created and perpetuated by the day-to-day (mis)behaviours of certain leadership figures; sometimes for only trivial (to them) but important things (to others).  These leaders seemed blissfully unaware of what they were doing and its impact on the people that they were supposed to be influencing positively.  Remember that as a leader in any context, you are being watched all the time.  You are a bit like a goldfish.  Except that some people observing you closely will take their lead directly from how you (mis)behave.

Adapt or stay frozen with CJ  It is a common myth (perhaps attachable to stories about historical figures like Alexander the Great) that there is one right way to lead.  There isn’t.  Good leaders adapt their way of influencing others according to the relative ability and willingness or motivation of those they seek to influence.  Less effective ones stick rigidly with their preferred style, the style “that got them where they are today”. We call this the ‘CJ Syndrome’, after the less-than-inspirational boss in David Nobbs’ very funny satire of business and working life: “The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin”.

Don’t be CJ.

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How to create a sales culture for professional services?

This topic has been “flavour of the year” for some time. It still is and you can see why.

In a survey by London Business School, when asked “How Good Are Professionals at Selling?” over 50% of client respondents replied ‘Poor’. Over 40% thought that the professionals they came across were getting worse at it, not better!  Now it was a while ago, but I reckon things haven’t changed that much.

Here are three things to consider that are one part of helping to reverse this trend and  forge a more productive, ‘sales’ culture for your firm.

Create the numbers…  Basic measurements, metrics, or whatever you want to call them can still be in short supply, if experience is anything to go by.

Without numbers, most Business Development programmes descend into motherhood, apple pie, and the lack of achievement that accompanies these.

Take a good look at the figures in your and others’ BD plans. How robust are they? Are they really SMARTER (Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Realistic, Timed, Evaluated, and Reviewed)? Do they measure only inputs, only outputs, both or neither? It should be both.

…then make them stick  What gets measured and rewarded gets done. It’s quite simple, yet so frequently doesn’t happen.

Professional firms are masterful at measuring and rewarding client work to the nth degree: but try and find similar rigour for business development activity and you will often search in vain.

And it is not sufficient simply to have measures. It must be clear to everyone in the firm what they each have to achieve; they must be measured and held accountable (via appraisals and other systems); and it MUST make a meaningful difference to them if they do or don’t achieve.

Make success visible  “There is only one thing in the world worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about”

Oscar Wilde could have been referring to professionals and their business development activities, couldn’t he? Despite the negative views expressed by some clients about selling expertise, we see many refreshing examples of BD success.

What we don’t see often enough is the intelligent exploitation of this best practice by playing it back in all its specifics to the firm, via excellent internal communications and all sorts of other ingenious means, to influence for the better and enhance the drip feed of professional peer pressure.