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The new professional will be doing less content but delivering more value

August 24th, 2017

How will the form of the professional services firm and the role of professionals change in the next decade?

This is an important question given the importance of professional knowledge workers such as IT specialists, designers, architects, lawyers, management consultants and accountants to the modern economy.

There is a major discontinuity emerging between the established paradigms of professional services and the emerging new paradigms that will be needed in response to key market and technology-driven transformation forces. Understanding these changes and how they will impact existing firms, professionals and those aspiring to a professional services job is important to the future of firms and professionals.

“The lawyer of the future will be doing less law.”

Those were the words spoken by the managing partner of a progressive UK law firm. They were said in one of a number of interviews I recently conducted with knowledge-intensive service firms including lawyers, management consultants and IT services businesses. Whilst these words specifically refer to the legal sector, there was a common theme in these interviews – and in my project work with professional service firms – that knowledge workers – whether they are lawyers, accountants, doctors, management consultants or other specialists – will, in the future, be focusing less on ‘technical content’ (i.e. their specialism) and much more on innovating new services, leading teams, collaborating with partners and building deeper client relationships.

Why will this happen and what does it mean for the future of knowledge workers and their firms?

 

What is driving these changes are major external trends:

  • Global competition – forcing firms to review and enhance their business models.
  • Client demands – driving firms to do ‘more for less’.
  • Global clients requiring consistency in service delivery across their locations.
  • Increasing IT value – enabling automation of repetitive knowledge work.
  • The ‘gig economy’ – offering firms a variable cost resource option.

In response to these trends, progressive knowledge-intensive service firms are taking the following actions in their business:

  • Streamlining and codifying repetitive work to enable lower cost service delivery.
  • Moving lower value work to less experienced and expensive personnel.
  • Applying IT solutions to automate repetitive work elements.
  • Experimenting/piloting AI solutions to automate more complex work.
  • Planning for reduction of core employees through contracting and outsourcing.
  • Broadening the capabilities of their senior professionals in non-technical areas.
  • Establishing more robust approaches for developing and managing services.

Many firms are using mergers to increase their scale which will help with funding major investment in IT and other improvements. However mergers in professional services are often problematic due to cultural misalignment and poor post-merger integration. They also dilute management focus. So the merger response to these challenges is by no means a ‘silver bullet’ – indeed it often results in major collateral damage….

The paradigm of the knowledge professional – be they a lawyer, accountant , consultant or other specialist – focused on performing fee earning work will change.

It will change to one where their time spent delivering expert content will reduce and be replaced by time spent in the following areas:

  • Developing new higher value services and partnerships.
  • Developing methods for delivery using automation or lower-skilled personnel.
  • Building a deeper understanding of client challenges.
  • Managing the delivery of new services and client relationships.
  • Leading and coaching junior personnel.

So how should firms and individuals prepare for these changes?

Firms need to develop new operating models that embrace these trends with strategies to achieve them. These strategies need to cover their organisation and skills development, their services design and delivery and their IT infrastructure. These strategies will deliver new business models that enable them to succeed in this new business landscape.

Individual professionals need to develop their skills portfolio to prepare them for this new world. They need to complement their deep content specialisms with broader capabilities in areas such as consultative selling, team leadership, project management and innovation. A useful model for this new world is as the ‘T-shaped’ specialist. In addition to these skills-based changes they need to take ownership of their individual skills development and branding. For they will increasingly be ‘going to market’ as an individual resource – as a subcontractor for a specific project – rather than as an anonymous professional ‘foot soldier’ working for a firm*.

*Tom Peters was certainly prescient when he wrote his book ‘The brand you 50’ in 1999, with his message to white-collar workers about the need to create their own personal brand.


This article was first published by the author on LinkedIn on 24th August 2017.

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