A trip in to the future

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Having just signed off the largest single piece of corporate entertainment we
have ever done for this year’s Olympic Games in London, it got me thinking about
how fantastic life is at the moment…

We recently realised a dream of winning a client we’ve been targeting for
some time. Some of the best talent in the country wants to work for us, we
opened a new office last year in one of the world’s strongest markets and to top
everything ­ England won the 2011 rugby world cup in New Zealand.

Way back when
In fact when I look back, just a few years ago, life was very different ­ let me
take you back to 2009.

It was all doom and gloom, if reality didn’t depress you, the media did.
Everywhere you looked there were stories about rising unemployment, business
failures and quantitative easing. The only respite from economic meltdown came
in the form of swine flu and MPs’ dodgy expenses claims.

I remember one very bad day in particular as it proved to be a turning point.
It started with being told that I and several of those in my team had been
included on the dreaded ‘at risk’ list. This was followed by a meeting with one
of our key clients where I was told that, due to the pressure they were under
internally, we would have to cut fees or face losing them to some very
aggressive competition.

We could easily have been dragged down by the general pessimism that
prevailed in our business as well as in the wider professional services
community, but we chose not to. Along with my team we set to work on a project
that ultimately took us to the successful position we are enjoying today.

The road to recovery
The first thing we did was take a fairly cold-hearted look at ourselves and
undertook a review of the business. We involved staff, clients, friends and
industry experts in this fairly short and sharp process.

We decided that in order to survive and grow we needed to put our effort and
energy into four areas of our business ­ developing a focus for where we wanted
to be, business development, teamwork and leadership.

We decided where we wanted to be in three years time. This was not a
wishy-washy mission statement; it was a well thought out vision of where we
wanted to be in the future. For example, we considered the type of work we
wanted to be doing, the type of clients we wanted to attract, the kind of
individuals we wanted working for us, the market’s perception of us and which
parts of the world we wanted to be operating in.

It was only part of the issue to decide where we were going. We then had the
much harder task of turning the vision into reality and to do that we knew we
had to reinvigorate our business development efforts.

We set about changing the mindset when it came to selling ­ building the
client’s motivation to buy from us rather than persuading them to accept our
offering. We put our fee-earners through a programme designed to increase their
confidence through the development of practical skills. We made real progress.

We identified our twelve best clients ­ not only those who provided the best
revenues but those with potential for growth. In some cases it was the kudos
factor that got them on to our list.

Part of the team
We created two types of teams ­ the first aimed at developing business in our
chosen markets. Part of their remit was to become industry sector experts. These
teams signed up to receive trade publications and allocated reading and
communicating responsibilities. They attended, and spoke at, industry
conferences and hosted seminars on highly topical subjects.

The second type were key client teams. We pulled together the people from
across the business to work together for each of the twelve clients we had
identified. We looked for individuals with an interest in the client, knowledge
of the client’s industry, the ability to work as part of a team, existing
relationships within the client and the desire to be involved. It was this team
that had absolute authority over how the work was planned and executed as well
as how the firm communicated with the client.

Leading the way
The fourth area was mostly driven by our own people. As part of our cold, hard
look at ourselves we asked our people a simple question. “If you could go to the
open market and tender for the leaders and managers of our business, what would
the criteria be for success and would you stick with the incumbents?”

I can tell you the results of this were a huge wake up call. Plenty of
respondents said they would stick with their current manager, but too many would
seek a change, given the opportunity. Getting this element right was vital.

We needed to invert our ‘management pyramid’ ­ the entire organisation is set
up in a supportive structure with clients at the top. We set about helping them
to become the best they could be through one-to-one coaching, leadership
development centres and internal mentoring.

Getting our business leadership right was vital. We are all rowing in the
same direction, the boat is steady and the team on board are clear about our
strategy and their roles.

So here we are, looking forward to the London Olympics. We’re in a stronger
position and I think we’re going to do even better than we did in Beijing.

Gary Williams is a consultant at The PACE Partners

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