When we are in a presidential election year, the first Tuesday in March brings a flurry of primaries and caucuses that are a strong influence in the nomination process. Often, the candidate who does exceptionally well on that date is propelled into a position of strength at the convention due to the results. The other candidates can be left “singing the blues” if their candidacy is negatively impacted by their showing. In many ways, business performance has its own “Super Tuesday” impetus.
The budgeting process in professional services firms can be likened to the Super Tuesday effort. Once per year, strategic planning leads to goal setting and the development of the financial plan for the upcoming fiscal year. Decisions are made to invest in recruiting, professional development, marketing, client development, client retention, and the other line items that constitute the operating accounts of the firm.
Champions of the first five listed disciplines are almost pitted against one another in vying for limited “discretionary” funds. The opportunity to articulate a business case for greater investment in the category of one’s specialty is a beauty pageant “won” usually by the fortunate individual(s) whose programs align with where the executive committee is motivated to invest. Those who do not receive the funding they would like are similar to political candidates who do not win enough states–their careers are not over, but they realize that they have suffered a setback that is visible to all.
To avoid the “bluesy” sense of winning and losing, firms need to become more savvy in the way they approach the process. Many firms with less than 50 total employees don’t have the luxury of having full time staff for even one of these very specific roles. There may be a generalist who oversees multiple categories (e.g. an HR director, firm administrator, or combo marketing and business development person), but not specialists with an experience base as deep as the billable professionals have in their own respective fields. What’s a firm to do? How about hiring the expertise on a fractional basis? In this modern age of telecommuting, contract workers, and flexible work environments, chances are high that one could secure insightful contributors without having to provide benefits or create a new full-time position.
The bigger challenge, however, is not simply getting professional (in their own field) leaders, but changing the strategic planning process to become more inclusive. Having these leaders participate earlier in the strategic planning process can yield great results for your firm. It may very well be that they would bring competitive intelligence about what other peer firms are doing. It is likely that they can sharpen one another’s areas by hearing what is of concern and passion. At the very least, they become more actively engaged stakeholders in the decisions that are made with regards to goals, budget and direction.
Avoid the post-budgeting blues by changing the way you develop your strategic plan and goals. Professionalize the management of your firm through intentionally building a team of smart leaders in the “back office.” Create the culture where your firm looks forward to your internal Super Tuesday season as a way to coalesce and build momentum!