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Growing Success

When I begin working with lawyers or CPAs, one of the first things I do is determine what they know about business development and how they feel about it. That gives us a starting point. Recently I did this with a five-year professional who came to her firm loaded with credentials, including advanced degrees and a big-name former employer. Through my assessment, I was surprised to discover what she did not know: that her profession required the development of human relationships. This woman did not understand - and was never taught, either in school or by her previous employer - that success in professional services is a direct consequence of her ability to relate to other people.

She did not know she needed to create relationships with other professionals in her firm. She did not know she had to make her colleagues aware of what services she offered and to whom she offered them. She assumed that, because she had been hired by this firm, everyone in the firm would know, would care, and would send her clients. Of course, she had no idea she might have to leave her office and attend functions where she would meet people who might one day become clients. She did not know that bringing in clients would eventually be one of her responsibilities. Saddest of all, she lacked the most basic human relations skills she needed to accomplish any of these things.

This professional left her firm after a few months for another that promised her she could sit at her desk and crank out work. I wish her luck, but I doubt she will see that promise fulfilled or that she will ever be very successful in her chosen profession.

I have long argued that academic institutions are doing a mighty disservice to accounting and law students by ignoring the human and business aspects of their chosen professions. Students graduate with some level of technical knowledge and nearly no ability to form relationships, unless they are born with that skill; nor do they have any clear idea how a firm operates. They are often very surprised at the reality of working in a firm and how little of what they learned in school helps them. After dealing with such individuals for many years, I can tell you with every degree of certainty that what they do not learn hurts them and hurts their organizations.

So. What to do? Hire at least as much for attitude as for credentials. Learn to interview effectively and send only your most able partners (the best people-readers, perhaps?) on the hiring quest. Start training your professionals in business development and the business of your firm early on - as in Day One. When they go through orientation, make sure they understand your firm's expectations of them regarding client service, standards of personal conduct ("how we treat each other"), personal appearance (don't assume they know this - they very often don't), and how business development will play a role in their success over time. Tell them your firm will support them with mentoring and training and that you will celebrate their efforts and their wins every step of the way.

And then do it.

© Melinda Guillemette 2009