Last week I delivered a keynote in London on behalf of LexisNexis to a select group of senior executives of large professional services firms. The broad theme was the future of professional services and in particular practice management. In my speech I emphasized the network perspective on professional firms.
In an economy where value is increasingly based on deep professional knowledge and relationships, it is increasingly valid to ask why professional firms exist. Why don’t professionals practice as individuals, and collaborate with other professionals simply as client situations require it? In fact there is currently a significant shift to professionals working independently or in very small groups. Of course there are a number of good answers to this. Most importantly, the existence of professional firms should facilitate different expertise to be brought together seamlessly to address clients’ issues and create uniquely valuable offerings.
However this is only valid if the firm is well connected internally. Professionals need to be aware of each others’ expertise, and actively bring that together in teams to meet client needs. I have described some of the key issues underlying that in my presentation Tapping Networks to Bring the Best of the Firm to Clients that I did at the Network Roundtable conference last November.
As there are more and more alternatives for organizations that are seeking professional expertise, the network perspective to the firm becomes increasingly relevant, and ultimately at the heart of differentiation. Those firms that are better at connecting their expertise in ways that are relevant to the client will be perceived differently. What is most relevant is not the size of a professional firm, but how much of the firm’s capabilities can readily be accessed by the client. All of which means that the whole Enterprise 2.0 movement, which is essentially about enabling firms to be connected more effectively, is so important in professional firm differentiation.
In other words, unless organizations are very well networked, having deep and broad enabling connections across the various practices and locations of the firm, their value can and should be questioned. The individual professionals could well be better off working independently. So the successful and surviving firms of the future will be those that are effectively networked, most likely drawing on social media tools.