Practice Development Counsel

Phyllis weiss haserot
Phyllis weiss haserot

President & Founder

212 593-1549

E-Alerts: Organizational Effectiveness Archives

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Valuing Skills People Didn't Go To School To Learn

I think of this as a part of flexibility.

Professional services firms tend to be very traditional and conservative in how they regard structure, governance, and the management roles that have to (“unfortunately”, they think) be performed. Most professionals would say they didn't go to school to learn to sell, or manage others (they have a hard enough time managing themselves), or recruit or train.

It can be argued however, that in the old days, professional firms did have a mentoring system in which new entrants were kind of apprenticed to an experienced senior in the firm who did function as a trainer. These relationships were one-on-one rather than teacher and class, as training is often conducted in firms today.

There is no denying that firms need not only business developers, but also strategic planners, recruiters, trainers and competent managers and leaders. Where are they to come from if these skills are not recognized and rewarded? If people are not encouraged to develop them and use them? If in fact, they are discouraged by most firm compensation systems? If they distract from what professionals are told they are there for: to perform billable services for clients?

The undervalued skills don't only pertain to aspects of firm management. Other significant examples relate to client relations and service delivery. Owing to their training, most professionals are much better at talking about what they can do for a client or writing or drawing or number crunching and producing a work product than understanding what clients really want and need and communicating with them in the way they want or need to be communicated with. In general, they need better interpersonal and perceiving skills. They need to be other-focused. This is true of lawyers, accountants, architects, doctors, engineers, and even consultants, as well as others.

Until firms value these skills as much (or almost as much) as those the professionals learned in school, they will remain latent or under-used. And it does make a difference to clients. For example, a firm may emphasize a lawyer's shortcomings in writing but de-value that individual's business skills: understanding a client's business, thinking strategically, and thinking on a client's wavelength. Yet one of the most important things to clients of any profession is understanding their business and helping them anticipate problems and opportunities. Writing skills, while quite important, may not be as necessary given that many people today don't bother to read everything they are given thoroughly. Good writing may be of lesser importance to a final outcome than good strategic business sense to meet the needs of today's business world.

How can we get firms' managements to re-evaluate and re-order the skills they value and reward?

Will professionals in firms recognize what clients want?
Ultimately, individuals and firms change because their clients demand it.

What can firm directors do?
Do directors tend to conform to the professionals' way of thinking or relish the role of change agent? (Some of each, I have observed.)

What can practice leaders do?
Should re-thinking of necessary skills begin at the practice group leader level? What would make them re-examine training and coaching needs?

What can individual professionals do?
If they see the light, where do they go for support?

I will address these questions in future issues. Meanwhile, please share with us your thoughts on these questions so we can expand the dialogue and encourage action toward change. Send your thoughts to or “Contact Us” at


© Phyllis Weiss Haserot 2003.