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critical areas, such as sales and operations.
Because planning in these areas is of indirect (and often delayed) benefit
to the firm, it is an often-neglected area of focus for professional services
providers. As firms grow from small and mid-size to encompass dozens or
hundreds of professionals, the management of the staff becomes exponen-
tially more difficult. Defined career tracks, compensation, and development
plans can reduce the overall human resources effort required to be effec-
tive. Instead of every case being handled as a “one-off ” proposition, with
the attendant spaghetti-tangle of disparate compensation, bonus, and pro-
motion decisions, decisions can be made according to predetermined poli-
cies and practices within the firm. These policies and practices remove the
immense burden of case-by-case decision making from firm management
and send a reassuring message of consistency, predictability, and reliability
to the staff.
Additionally, properly constructed training programs can enhance
the productivity, expertise, and capability of the professional staff. Well-
executed professional development programs can reduce costs for services
firms by allowing lower cost staff to perform higher level functions sooner
in their career.
A company that has thoroughly thought through its compensation, career
track, and professional development approach will attract and retain the best
professionals and find itself executing most efficiently in a difficult-to-man-
age internal area.

Determinants of Staff Satisfaction
A variety of studies has highlighted key drivers of staff satisfaction. Based
on our analysis of these studies, as well as first-hand experience, we list the
following key drivers of staff job satisfaction, in priority order:

• Satisfaction with immediate manager: Because of day-to-day contact,
professional staff identify with the company through their immediate
manager. If an employee does not have a good relationship with his or
her manager, that employee is at risk of leaving. Conversely, if that em-
ployee has a productive working relationship with the supervisor, risk
of the employee™s departure decreases significantly. To reduce the like-
lihood of uncontrolled attrition, firm executives must ensure that their
Career Tracks, Compensation, and Professional Development

managers are top performers and are respected and liked by the staff.
The human resources group can help the firm track attrition by man-
ager to determine whether there are any problems with a particular
manager, principal, or partner.
• Opportunities for training: Investment in training is a major driver of
employee satisfaction.
• Satisfaction with team and coworkers: Dysfunctional teams and cowork-
ers drive out employees quickly. High-performing, cohesive teams can
be a source of immense job satisfaction and are an important source of
employee and client satisfaction.
• Opportunities for career growth: The firm must provide the professional
staff members with challenges to satisfy their demand for learning.
• Compensation: Compensation, while the most obvious (and often cited)
variable, is not the number one factor in the career decisions of profes-
sional services professionals, as long as the compensation is within 10
percent of the market rate. If an employee™s compensation is far below
market, he or she will, however, seek alternative employment (or possi-
bly reduce his or her efforts).
• Opportunities for promotion: Most professional staff have ambitious in-
terest in career advancement. The firm must ensure that there is a clear
promotion ladder to satisfy these goals. The firm should also ask individ-
uals to perform at the level of skills the promotion requires before re-
ceiving the promotion. This procedure ensures that staff who are
promoted do not fail because they could not handle the rise in skill level

While compensation often receives the most attention as a determinant of
staff satisfaction, simply increasing salaries is rarely the right answer. The
preceding inventory of satisfaction determinants indicates that a well-
planned career track for professional staff, as well as other noncompensation-
related factors, is equally important. This chapter, along with Chapters 9 and
11, addresses these issues.

Career Tracks
A critical tool for managing professional and administrative staff in a ser-
vices firm is a well-defined career path. A given firm will have a variety of
titles and roles assigned to various professionals. An important distinction
should be made between two major categories of employees in a professional
services firm. First, professional staff are those who are directly responsible
for the delivery of the services and overall management of the firm (attor-
neys in a law firm, doctors in a medical practice, agents in a real estate firm,
220 Attracting and Retaining the Best Professionals

consultants in a consultancy, and so on). The second category, administrative
staff, is composed of those who are charged with supporting roles within the
professional services firm. These employees are usually working on adminis-
trative duties (secretaries, assistants, receptionists, paralegals, or coordina-
tors) or functional areas (human resources, finance, marketing, or information
This distinction is made because there are usually important differences
in firm compensation, career path, recruiting, roles, and responsibilities be-
tween the two types. Professional staff members are expected to focus their
attention on building and executing the business of the firm, with an even-
tual path to management and perhaps equity participation. Because the ma-
jority of the employees in a given professional services firm are professional
staff, this chapter focuses on career tracks and policies for those employees.
The promotion path of administrative staff is usually determined by the
firm on a case-by-case basis and follows the traditional patterns for these
The legal profession characterizes three key roles played by individuals
in professional services firms as “finders, minders, and grinders.” This as-
sessment is a fairly accurate description, particularly for consulting and
legal services. Finders are charged with identifying new clients, identifying
needs at existing clients, and selling new engagements based on existing or
new service offerings. Minders, usually mid-level managers, are charged
with ensuring that the execution of the projects or assignments is proceed-
ing smoothly. Grinders, usually analysts, consultants, or entry-level profes-
sional staff, execute the work and perform much of the analysis or heav y
lifting during a project.
The specific titles for these roles varies from firm to firm and industry to
industry. A list of the typical titles for each role follows:

• Finders: Partner, director, managing director or managing partner,
vice-president, senior vice-president
• Minders: Senior associate, principal, director, manager, senior manager
• Grinders: Analyst, associate, senior associate, consultant, senior con-

As would be expected, the ratio of finders to minders and grinders is a
critical component of firm profitability and varies depending on the type of
firm, specific services offered by the firm (type of work), and profit goals of
the firm. David H. Maister, a leading thinker in the field of management
consulting and author of numerous books on the topic of professional ser-
vices firm management, provides an excellent overview of leverage approach
in Chapter 1 of his book Managing the Professional Services Firm (see Re-
sources section). An overview of leverage ratio benchmarks can be found in
the benchmarking chapter of this book as well.
Career Tracks, Compensation, and Professional Development

The leveraged professional services model creates a pyramid organization
structure, as shown in Exhibit 10.1. Chapter 9 covers the potential ways in
which a professional services firm may structure itself in more detail.

Elements of a Career Track
The critical components of a career track include well-defined levels, roles
and responsibilities at each level, promotion criteria, and compensation plans
for each level.

LEVELS. Each level within the firm (associate, senior associate, principal,
partner) should carry a specific and clear title. As a firm grows, particularly
across multiple geographies, it is helpful when a manager has the same set of
expectations and responsibilities across offices and practices. Many firms,
particularly those that grow through acquisition, have a wide range of titles
assigned for a given role. A manager in one area group may be a senior asso-
ciate in another and a technical lead in yet another. Setting the titles clearly
and consistently is a critical element in bringing order to career tracks.

ROLES AND RESPONSIBILITIES. For each level, the typical roles and re-
sponsibilities should be clearly documented, including client delivery work, as
well as internal firm administrative duties, operations work, and business de-
velopment efforts. This means inventorying the skills, experience, education


r ea
l fo

Manager/Senior associate
er l

Typical points of entry
e ar

for new professional staff


Exhibit 10.1 Representative Professional Services Firm Structure
222 Attracting and Retaining the Best Professionals

profile, and detailed job duties for each staff position in the firm. Ill-defined
roles and responsibilities leave ambiguity about what is expected of profes-
sionals at each level, as well as conf licting titles and compensation structures.
Having defined roles and responsibilities properly sets expectations as to the
appropriate skills required at each level.
The roles and responsibilities should be clearly linked to the organization
structure (practice, firm, specialty group) as outlined in Chapter 9, as well
as the levels mentioned earlier. Inconsistencies will make staff management,
promotions, and appraisals unnecessarily difficult, case-by-case challenges
for firm management.
The following attributes should be part of each level definition:

• Position title
• Role within the organization (position on the organization chart)
• Reporting relationships (direct reports supervised by this position and
where this position reports)
• Job requirements: professional skills, educational background, work ex-
perience, company tenure
• Documentation of day-to-day, ongoing responsibilities, organized by
area (e.g., client work, firm operations work, marketing/business devel-
opment, firm direction setting, staff management)
• Priorities for responsibilities, how time should be allocated
• Objective and subjective measurements of success in the role
• Promotion criteria
• Success criteria or objectives

This information can also be used by internal or external recruiters as a
hiring specification, as well as provide the evaluation criteria during the an-
nual employee review process. The information also serves to emphasize
skills required for advancement at each level and expectations for profes-
sional staff as they progress through their career with the firm. Exhibit 10.2
outlines the typical career responsibility progression in a professional ser-
vices firm.

PROMOTION CRITERIA. For each level in the firm, the criteria for promo-
tion to that level should be outlined. These criteria are most often related to
knowledge, capabilities, and experience of the staff, as well as other factors
such as project types or tenure. The specific requirements will vary accord-
ing to firm type, size, service offering, and existing customs and practices. In
every case, the firm will benefit by the perception (and reality) that an objec-
tive standard exists for promotion. This sends the message that promotions
are based on merit and establishes a level playing field for staff competing for
Career Tracks, Compensation, and Professional Development

• Establish
Principal new clients
• Maintain ex-
• Manage en-
Manager isting client
gagements relationships
• Structure • Cultivate ex-
Associate • Develop
work effort isting client proposals
• Manage relationships
• Gather data • Sell engage-
projects • Recruit and
• Perform
Consultant ments
• Assess staff retain pro-
analyses • Develop
• Lead client
• Document fessional
• Lead client/ new service
processes staff
consultant offerings


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