I rarely get anything but nods when I suggest it would be a good thing for a senior professional to be proactive towards their client. Trouble is, whilst it’s hard to argue the logic, it simply isn’t going to happen in most cases.
Let’s look to the Tour de France for an analogy. A typical member of a tour cycling team will do anything to stay in the peloton. Those crazy people who jump off the front are usually just providing added PR for the team jersey for as long as they can, until they inevitably get caught by the chasing peloton. Occasionally, they will manage to survive the break and win a stage. More PR, highly exciting, but it’s quite rare and not for the average Joe, because it’s tantamount to race suicide, quite apart from the pain that the extra effort causes. There’s simply too much energy required to combat the added headwind that comes from going it alone and daring to get ahead of everyone else.
Back to the world of professional firms then. A typical accountant or lawyer primarily measures their success by how many hours they charge their clients. Note: I didn’t say how much value they give to their clients – that’s a different thing entirely.
They win the financial race by staying close to the safety of the in-tray, avoiding ventures away from chargeable work. This usually satisfies their number one KPI. A good day is one where the professional charges the client between 5 and 6 hours, irrespective of what they’ve actually achieved in that time. If that’s so, why on earth would they spend two hours going to see one of their valuable clients unless they can charge the time? The answers are obvious in theory – retain the clients for life, identify client needs, generate referrals and even find more work, but these are almost always secondary KPI’s to the call of the chargeable hour. Secondary KPI’s are those we focus on when and only when the primary KPI has been satisfied.
Because commoditisation is making it harder and harder to bill clients for standard, desk-based work these days, the irony is that many professionals are having to work for longer at their desks in order to hit their primary targets, so they never quite get around to doing all the things they say they will (particularly in their marketing collateral), believe in and genuinely intend to do.
There are exceptions to the rule of course, as with anything. However, a large majority of senior professionals focus on taking and delivering orders rather than thinking how they can add value to their clients.
It’s sad that nothing much has changed since I left the profession 13 years ago. What’s more, it won’t radically change until the timesheet is jettisoned to the vaults of a museum and the primary measure becomes value-based rather than time-based.