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Leading Firms: How Great Professional Service Firms Succeed & How Your Firm Can Too Paperback – March 19, 2013
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About the Author
- Publisher : SelectBooks; First edition (March 19, 2013)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 240 pages
- ISBN-10 : 1590799577
- ISBN-13 : 978-1590799574
- Item Weight : 11.2 ounces
- Dimensions : 5.9 x 0.6 x 8.9 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #2,120,720 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
"A timely novel highlighting the worth and delicate nature of Nature itself." -Delia Owens Learn more
Top reviews from the United States
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In the case of this book, dig turned out to be the appropriate term. In my opinion, the author’s unconventional writing style makes it almost unreadable. Working my way through this book was both difficult and tiring. Quite frankly, the effort required wore me out and wore me down.
Sentence construction is overly complex and I often found myself having to go back and reread individual sentences to determine what the author was trying to say. Even then it wasn’t easy and I wasn’t always successful. Thinking the opening section and first chapters might be an exception, I tried other entry points. There was no improvement.
I’m a published author. In that regard, I know my job is to make it easy for the reader to understand the points I am making. If a second edition of this book ever appears, which I find unlikely, and if it has been properly edited by a professional editor, I might consider trying again. In the interim, I have donated my copy to the Salvation Army.
In his book, he explains how great professional service firms succeed and how his reader's firm can, also. He focuses on several separate but related, in fact interdependent components: strategy, revenue cycle, resource allocation, profitability, quality of execution, the "growth engine," brand synergy, the "performance envelope," and talent flow.
As he correctly observes, "many firms struggle with perennial problems, despite their sophisticated analysis and considerable efforts. They move from solution to solution every couple of years, changing their structure, redesigning principal compensation, or revising promotion criteria. Well-crafted solutions seem to spawn unintended consequences in surprising places. Frustrated leaders find that the seemingly obvious solution, while thoughtfully developed, carefully explained, and impeccably implemented, doesn't get the acceptance it deserves. It seems harder than it ought to e, particularly fir a simple model."
Kuhlman addresses these and other challenges, sharing lessons he has learned over several decades in combination with information and counsel based on that extensive experience. He duly notes that "professional service firms are governed by different forces and constraints than make-and-sell organizations. They are different in the way they operate, in the way they create value, and in the unique ways they develop and grow." The same is true of what tends to be their decision-making process, the dynamics of their workplace, and the culture within which leadership and management skills are developed. Here's one of several key points that he makes in the Introduction: "To oversimplify, firms invest substantial time and energy to develop assets that can leave at pretty much any time, taking all or most of the value with them." He also acknowledges why change and consistency in a professional service firm are so difficult to achieve. For many principals, they are mutually exclusive.
What to do? Kuhlman suggests that the necessary structure for enduring success has a foundation that consists of a strategy that is well-grounded and reasonably well-executed, professional discipline (i.e. command over the basics of the business), differentiating capabilities "in a world where offerings are similar and talent comes from the same pool," and a high-performance culture in which principals are aligned with each other as well as with the direction of the firm and share a strong sense if stewardship.
These are among the dozens of passages that caught my eye, also listed to indicate the scope of the book's coverage.
o Why Change in a Professional Services Firm Is Hard (Pages xvii-xx)
o Bringing It Together: Making a Cycle a Cycle (35-36)
o Basic Economics of Leverage (38-41)
o Multiplying Effort: The Role of Mindshare (47-50)
o Creating Balance: Leadership Awareness and Courage (51-61)
o How Firms Encourage Quality (69-73)
o Measuring and Interpreting Client Satisfaction (73-79)
o Thinking Differently About Sustained Growth (85-86)
o How a Firm's Activities Create Brand Strategy (104-110)
o The Continually Collapsing Performance Envelope (114-117)
o The Pull Toward Stagnation and What to Do About It (117-127)
o Success Formula: How to Maximize Talent Flow (137-141)
o Meritocracy vs. Pragmatism: Two Contrary Forces (146-149)
o Why Meritocracy Is Uniquely Important (158-161)
o Successorship (161-163)
When concluding his book, Kuhlman once again acknowledges that the road to success for a professional service firm "is a complicated and rocky one. The business, its economics, and its priorities are dimple on the service until the human component makes it maddeningly complex." Yes, there are lessons to be learned from others. "Successful firms can, in fact, provide valuable lessons, and that is what this book is about." However, ultimately leaders in a professional service firm must discover a better version of that firm. In this context, I am reminded of Oscar Wilde's admonition, "Be yourself. Everyone else is taken." The same can be said of a professional service firm. In the final paragraph, David Kuhlman expresses several thoughts that can also serve as a conclusion to my brief commentary:
"Managing a professional service firm has been likened to herding cats and the metaphor is apt, but it misses a fundamental point: While cats are not cattle, they will follow a leader and work together if they are engaged as what they are: unique, opinionated, strong-willed professionals who have joined together for a common purpose. They will never travel in a herd, but they can -- and will, if properly led -- work together to build something truly great."
Those who share my high regard for this book, are urged to check out the aforementioned books by David Maister, The Trusted Advisor and Managing the Professional Service Firm, as well as Henry Chesbrough's Open Services Innovation: Rethinking Your Business to Grow and Compete in a New Era.
Although each CEO letter states that the most valuable asset of the firm are the employees, in professional services firms there are often literally are no other assets. In professional service firms most of the employees are equally capable, skilled and knowledgeable as the executive management – or clearly more so if you ask themselves. In a manufacturing company the assets don’t have a will of their own to decide if they want to implement what the management decides and they certainty don’t have the option to just walk out the door and join the worst competitor if the decision hurts their ego. In professional services firms nothing can be done against the will of the most prominent employees.
In the book’s first part the author describes what professional services firms do. That is, not how the audit is prepared or the consultancy project is executed but what the processes of the firms look like and which strategies they peruse. Initially Kuhlman doesn’t argue for or against any specific practice and isn’t very engaging. The second part continues where the other started and takes a more prescriptive stance on what firms should do in terms of their processes. The topics include management of the revenue cycle, how to deploy employee resources, brand development, career models etc. In the final part Kuhlman moves into the more unspoken cultural aspects that drive professional services firms and set the outstanding ones apart from the others.
In the third part of the book the author displays his triumph card. Only a person with multiyear experience of the business could have written the latter part. Kuhleman has thought long and hard about the finer nuances of running a consultancy firm and put into words to what many experience subconsciously. In this way this book is definitely more penetrating than a The McKinsey Way and other similar books. To my disappointment the focus in the book is very much on management consulting firms and those interested in professional services firms with other types of business models like for example asset managers, investment banking, securities brokerage will find relatively little to benefit from.
For an outsider to the management consulting industry it is quite fascinating to read the sections on employee management. In this industry people are truly commodities. The flows of an ‘up-or-out’ system is discussed; employees whose productivity development has stagnated stand in the way of up-and-risers who need the customer exposure and the former subsequently need to be ‘counseled out’. They become leaders in other veins of society and future customers to the firm.
Since English is not my first language I rarely want to comment how others express themselves in writing. However, the language in this book hampers the reader’s understanding. It is abstract and cumbersome in an academic kind of way despite that most of the subjects discussed are practical in nature - parts of the book become a bit boring to read. The introduction to the text is highly promising and the book is full of wise thoughts. Unfortunately, very similar thoughts pop up time and again on various places and in the end this makes the structure of the book a bit unclear – what is the storyline? Some editing in the spirit of Barbara Minto could have benefited the text.
There is a lot of wisdom in this book. Too bad it isn’t as inviting to read as it could be. The subject is no doubt interesting.
This is a review by investingbythebooks.com