New buzzwords or real change?

Remember the days when every law and accountancy firm’s materials told you of how ‘dynamic’ and ‘responsive’ they were? Some still do. Well now it appears, from conversations across the market, that ‘flexible’ and ‘agile’ are the most important words in the professional services sector lexicon. Will these buzzwords fare any better?

It would be unfair to say that no firms were dynamic and definitely not true to say they were all unresponsive. There were plenty who attempted to turn the words into reality – with varying degrees of success. Dynamic was always a tough one to pull off. What was dynamic to one firm, for example rolling out a key client programme or a sector focus initiative, had been the norm in other firms for years. Responsive was a double edged sword which had lawyers leaping out of bed to read their Blackberries at 2am to show their undying commitment to their clients or conversely attempting to put clear boundaries around response times to manage expectations.

I have far higher hopes for ‘flexible’ and ‘agile’. In fact they are in many ways the children of ‘dynamic’ and ‘responsive’. Firms realised that be truly dynamic you needed to find an answer to one of their clients’ key concerns, responsiveness. To be able to achieve this without doubling the employee number they needed a better solution. The answer came in flexible working and being able to work from anywhere. In a world of exponentially rising rental costs for office space why waste the cost of a whole desk space on a person who does not need to sit at it to do their job? Also the changing priorities of the next generation of fee earners who are not prepared to sit at their desk for 22 hours a day without complaint, has led to a static work environment being cited as one of the reasons for them leaving or not joining a firm.

Agile has been on the rise, not only due to the responsiveness question but for retention of talent from the fee earners through to all business services. So far so good – lower costs, higher work satisfaction, better client service – right? The only fly in the ointment is the trust factor. Is the professional services sector ready to let go of the reins and let people work where and when they choose and how will they manage it? I foresee some extensive training of all those in management on how to trust your team if this is ever going to happen. I, for one, sincerely hope we can see these latest buzzwords transcend into real change for the industry on how it services clients’ needs and addresses the internal issues of employee engagement.

Susanne Pugsley, Regional Director, PM Forum London