Autonomy: celebrated by individuals, but it weakens partnerships’ branding and practice building.

Posted on Mar 24, 2016

autonomyProfessional service firm partners often tend to think and act as autonomous business units first, members of a coherent unified group second. Lip service, yes. Full out team commitment, not so much.

Autonomy is in many ways a plus, of course. Each partner knows her strongest practice area, and can pursue clients whose needs match those strengths. Fine.

But autonomy has negative consequences for the branding of the firm. We have seen many firms who put a person (partner or hired gun) in charge of business development, but shrink from allowing that person any real power or substantial budget. Achieving consensus on the firm’s mission/vision/position becomes a source of conflict, hesitation and territory marking. 

The resulting committee-driven effort will be inoffensive, thrifty – and feeble. Seriously, which of your hundreds of competitors can’t make that ho-hum “we’re on your side” claim?

When you add in the regulatory challenges that every attorney, accountant and financial advisor faces, it’s not surprising when marketing efforts turn into safe, predictable abstractions: mayonnaise on white bread.

Is there a cure? Sure. As we Darwinians say, the path to survival lies in adaptation.

By the way, if you recognize your firm in this, let’s get all the partners together and start to take action.


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