Talent development has become more sophisticated and performance-driven in recent years. Many professional services firms do not have the best practices that we see in their clients. Clients have been sending strong messages to improve. For example, clients will refuse to pay for junior professionals on their matters. They will ask for diversity in the teams assigned to their matters. They dislike turnover of their service teams. By clinging to traditional advancement practices, many firms risk losing talent and alienating clients.
Familiar examples of “behind the curve” practices that we see in our consulting to law firms and other professional service firms include:
- Automatic pay increases for each year of seniority, while clients wonder why they are paying higher uniform hourly rates each year.
- There is no communication to clients of the advancement of junior and mid-career professionals.
- Those aspiring to partnership face a “black box” of the key criteria for making partner; there is insufficient communication of what is “on track performance”
- Upon making partner, the firm assumes the professional has all the skills and knowledge to be successful; little organized partner training and management skill development is offered.
- While clients are clamoring for more diversity, many firms are not developing a pipeline or mentoring for diverse associates.
Edge works with firms at four stages of talent development:
- Associate professional development, competency frameworks, and promotion
- Path to partnership criteria, performance and decision-making We find that many firms have regretted making too many non-equity or equity partners.
- Partner skill development and performance evaluation
- Dealing with partner under-performance via clear standards for partner competency and annual performance. (see Partner Performance and Compensation for further insights)
- The path and expectations for “wind-down” partners nearing retirement.
Our customized solutions include:
At the Associate Level – developing competency descriptions and performance evaluation at several stages of associate seniority; review of the firm’s evaluation tools and procedures; improvement of current procedures for evaluation and promotion; better definition of expectations for those who aspire to partnership.
At the Partner level – implementation of new Partner training programs; leadership skills for everyday Partner tasks and for formal leaders; leadership training in groups (e.g. Executive, Practice Group leaders); annual partner performance evaluation tools and processes; recommendations for “wind down” partners.
Overall talent strategy – the definition of competencies, development needs and advancement criteria aligned to the firm’s strategy and consistent with the market in which it competes; new and lateral hiring practices consistent with strategy.
Professionals at each of these stages want to understand what they need to do to perform well to advance and to contribute to clients and the firm. We have combined our experience in talent development frameworks and management skills training to help firms address client concerns, articulate criteria for advancement and evaluate professionals. (see Case Study: Legal Innovators)
At the same time, we understand that managing talent has to be handled with sensitivity to a firm’s history and culture. For that reason, we have frequently recommended and conducted our objective cultural assessment. The information from that assessment has often affected the decision-making of leaders in talent and strategic decision-making.