But, working in professional services ourselves and serving as communications counsel to a variety of professional services firms over the years, there is one strategy that leads to success in professional services 100 percent of the time – hire and retain “good” people. “Good” people aren’t just good at what they do, they are good at working together. They are good to work with and for. They are good to clients – likable and trustworthy. And they are good for the culture, embodying the firm’s brand.
In our past experience and in working with clients, we have seen first-hand what happens when a firm becomes successful by attracting “good” people – but begins to implode when those people leave. In other types of businesses, the brand can be bigger than the people and enable a business to be sustained despite turnover. But, in professional services, the people are the brand, especially the people with client relationships. If those people leave a firm, particularly those with an equity stake (often positioned, in the clients’ minds as the most important), a firm can face disaster.
The Washington Post reported a new case in point just yesterday – a law firm that grew by hiring attorneys who knew how to make money and build relationships. As those attorneys have left, the firm has suffered. Assuming the Post got the story right, this should be a warning for all of us in professional services. Your people really do matter the most. Empower them, keep them engaged and allow them to work together in ways that make them want to stay.
We realize that we are far from the first to dispense this advice or even note the correlation between retention of “good” people and long-term success in professional services. We just want to be among the first to actually follow the advice and live it for the entire lifespan of our firm.