What can corporates learn from professional firms

By Fiona Hotston Moore 

Professional firms are very different animals from commercial enterprises. Typically a professional firm lacks the hard nosed commercial focus and hierarchical management structure of a company. The managing partners of professional firms will often describe their role as herding cats and, as those in partnerships will appreciate, the place of influence is not always where the title resides.

The professionals/fee earners in successful professional service firms are driven by delivering a high value client service and assume that the rest will fall into place.

So what, if anything, can other organisations, large or small, learn from professional firms?

Talent Management

The most successful professional services firms have an overriding focus from top down on attracting, retaining and developing talent. Each professional is responsible not only for building the client portfolio but also for developing the talent base. The best professional services firms invest in recruitment, induction, soft skills training, mentoring, explicit performance objectives and timely feedback. Individuals who are not going to meet the mark are managed out quickly.

In companies there is often the culture of waiting to see who “sinks or swims”.

Teams and Leverage

Successful professional services firms recognise that recruiting and retaining strong individuals is only part of the equation. It is then critical to leverage the talent by formation of highly skilled and diverse teams. Successful professionals are driven by the desire to provide outstanding results to their clients. They, however, recognise that in a complex business world no one individual can deliver this alone. This shared motivation delivers exceptional results.

Strategic Leadership

In corporates strategic direction is set by the CEO and the board. In professional firms the leadership may set strategy about investment in IT, human resources, branding etc. However, the real strategic decisions, that differentiate the firm from its competitors, are taken by the professionals at the coalface. The successful firm creates an environment that fosters innovation and encourages the team to be both creative and responsive and think outside the box in providing solutions to clients.


In all organisations the most successful leaders are those who inspire, motivate and facilitate others to succeed and recognise the power of teams.

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