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Professional partnership? Who is sitting around your board room table?

Why do professional partnerships often not look like (or behave like) a "proper" business?

Part of the answer to the question is that the partners who sit at a typical professional partnership board room table do not look like (or behave like) the business people who sit at a typical business board room table.

Why is that? Well for a start, the people who often (not always) go on to become partners in professional partnerships - never actually chose to be running a business (become a business leader).

Often, the "running a business/leader" part was an after-thought or happened by accident - because that partner:

- Did well at school - passed their exams - and set off on their chosen (professional) career path

- Did well at their chosen career path - and "climbed their vocational (professional) ladder"

- One day they were invited to become a "professional partner" - and - "swoosh" they simultaneously became a business leader. Perhaps? Maybe? Sort of?

The truth is that partner was really good at their job (profession) - and they had, either, good technical skills - or perhaps good client relationship skills - or perhaps both (great combination).

The truth is that often (not always) that partner was - and still is - more focused on the needs of their clients, rather than their own business needs.

How can you tell if this is happening inside your professional partnership? 

Look around your partnership board room table - and specifically look at the PRIMARY jobs your partners do.

This is what a "proper business" board room table (typically) looks like:

There will usually be (something like) 5 people sitting around the table (obviously this varies slightly in "real life") - who have reasonably clear PRIMARY roles. Usually their board room table looks something like this:

- The CEO ("the boss") - they lead and provide the business strategic overview - they focus on:

-  Compelling business purpose (we know why we do what we do)

-  Clear vision (we all know where we are going as a business) 

-  Clear values (we all understand the rules we work by, and build a trusting environment)

- Robust plan (we all know what needs to be done as we work towards our vision)

- Team desire (maintaining an "action culture" driven by actively engaged team players)

- Marketing person - work on brand and differentiation in the market, building awareness among target customers, and reaching those target customers consistently

- Sales person - works on consistent delivery of the standard value proposition , building a pipeline of potential new customers, up-selling value-added products/services once they are customers, generating referrals.

- Finance person - works on the financial plan, forecasts, budgets, variances, controls, data capure, key-performance-indicators etc.

- Operations person - works on effective, efficient, timely delivery and removing waste from the process with continuous improvement.

This is what a professional partnership board room table often (not always) looks like:

There will usually be someone called "Managing Partner". Often (not always) this will be more like a "title" rather than a role. The key question is whether that Managing Partner is really focused on the things that a CEO should do - or are they still focused primarily on their clients?

There will usually be a collection of partners sitting around the board room table whose job is (primarily) to either manage clients or provide a high level of technical expertize (or both). Obviously it is important and necessary that these jobs are done well. No argument. 

However, who is doing the marketing - sales - financial - operational roles as their primary focus? Answer = usually nobody. They are nobody's prime focus areas. They are an after-thought (at best).

The common result? 

Professional partnerships often have great client focus but lack a clear business focus.


Where professional partnerships are usually (reasonably efficient) is in the middle section (2) above - DOING WORK.

They are usually quite efficient here, partly because they do have targets and KPI's - like hours charged and % hours recovered and billed. 

In fact they are only "reasonably efficient" in this "factory" area, as any truly focused operations person could improve their efficiency significantly. 

In fact most professional partnerships run like a series of "individual professional fiefdoms" within a business. Nevertheless, the fact that there are at least some rudimentary KPI's and measures helps to hold the machine together with "chewing gum and string". It works.

Many professional partnerships don't have a very clear focus in section (1) above - WINNING WORK.

Professional partnerships often do have "rain-makers" - but there is usually little (or no) individual partner accountability - it is a secondary role (at best) as "doing work" comes first. On top of that there are: - no KPI's - no focus - no growth - no (consistent and clear business) differentiation. Work winning is haphazard.

Most professional partnerships don't have a very clear focus in section (3) above - GROWING WORK (from existing clients).

Once again we often see - no accountability - no KPI's - no focus - no growth - no (consistent and clear) process to make growth happen. Individual partners may be better/worse at it - but there is no consistent partnership way of doing it.

The outcome of this lack of focus, consistency, process etc. is that the professional partnership does not (usually) create a "SOLID" repeatable business brand. Instead the professional partnership brand is usually "FLUID" - based around individual personalities that come and go over time (with the result that the professional partnership typically (not always), struggles to create long term business value in their brand.

So, if you are a partner in a professional partnership - ask yourself the question - who is doing what sitting around your board room table?

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