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Passion, People and Principles

Bad Habits

post # 520 — April 2, 2008 — a General post

One of my correspondents asked this question:

“I am looking for the top 10 bad habits partners within professional services firms display – and hopefully some answers on how to correct them”

Anybody want to propose some suggestions?


Susan Sinclair said:

As a starter, I would include the following;

They prioristise managing perception above all else and seek to pass blame on rather than shoulder the responsibilities of authority.

They start to believe their own hype, don’t listen to others and fail to recognise or take account of their own development needs.

They prioritise short term fee income rather than looking to long term development and investment needs

They inflate their own knowledge and skills and fail to appreciate or utilise those offered by others

posted on April 2, 2008

Shama Hyder said:

Mistake # 1-

They view marketing as a tactic and not a strategy. Marketing is the most misunderstood concept in professional service firms.

My recommendation: Train everyone in your organization to be a better marketer and to understand marketing.

posted on April 2, 2008

Ashok Shastry said:

I think mistakes start right from selecting partners and structuring partnership deeds. A partner may have great skills but not all relevant ones to a particular business or initiative. But they do want 50% in everything, which is only human. Another big mistake is wanting majority share and not focusing on building the pie. It’s hard to attract good partners that way. Almost all partnerships I’ve seen, including my own, have broken due to either reason. Expectation setting and professionalism are key, especially in the beginning.

posted on April 2, 2008

Heidi Ehlers said:

They don’t live up to their commitments relative to time. They don’t set deadlines for themselves because they’re not sure they can deliver against them.

Or alternately, they ‘try’ as opposed to committing.

As a result, they have little or no credibility with their stakeholders.


1. Use your daytimer as a bring forward file, create appointments in your calendar for when you promised something.

2. Write everything down. Your memory is not THAT good. No one’s is with the amount of information being processed daily these days.

3. Develop a line of sight beyond the right here and right now.

4. Look in your daytimer for the next two weeks to see what is coming up to be prepared. Your brain is full, it needs more time than you think to get your head around something

5. Think it through and come to a decision in the time line you’ve promised.

6. Run your days, don’t let your days run you. Refer back to point #1.

The solution seems overly simple, but its implimentation is not overly common.

posted on April 2, 2008

Katie Nelson said:

Too many firms try to be all things to all people–and end up not being the best at anything. Often partners have the fear of turning any business away–even if it’s the wrong business for them. They don’t differentiate themselves from the firm down the street.

Decide what you do best, and what client(s) you serve best–and be true to that strategy. Only slightly secondary: communicate that strategy to evey member of your firm. That doesn’t mean that over time you don’t evolve.

posted on April 2, 2008

Ed Kless said:

This one is easy!

They favor:

  • Revenue generation over profit
  • Efficency over effectiveness
  • Capacity over the understanding of the intellectual captial of their people (knowledge)
  • Cost-plus pricing over actually creating value for their customers

Solution: Eliminate the timesheets and replace them with leadership, after-action reviews, predictive indicators, real project management and knowledge investment.

posted on April 2, 2008

Ed Kless said:

Excuse my misspellings above.

posted on April 2, 2008

Peter Darling said:

This one is easy. Hands down, the worst habit they tend to have is being reactive instead of proactive. Take a look at my blog post on this concept.

posted on April 2, 2008

Dean Fuhrman said:

Allow everything to become a crisis, pull out all the stops to beat back the crisis of the moment, and at the same time call for more efficiency.

posted on April 3, 2008

Craig Klein said:

Well, you’ve certainly gotten the “what” part covered here. The “how to correct them” is tougher…

The partnership structure is a problem in itself. It insulates partners from “buck stops here” responsibility.

Suggestion – create virtual Business Units, Profit Centers and Cost Centers and give each partner responsibility for individual centers/units.

I think the perspective that comes from ultimate responsibility for the numbers will lead to better understanding of many of the marketing and value add problems commented on.

posted on April 3, 2008

Michelle Golden said:

Easy to create a list of bad habits/tendencies I see across many firms…

  • conflict avoidance: failing to stand up (to other partners) for what they believe in or know is right (esp managing partners reluctant to put foot down)
  • believing their people simply aren’t “good enough” when, in fact, team member shortcomings are usually due to lack investment in knowledge transfer and training
  • unwillingness to consider new ideas (closeminded)
  • complacency (laziness?)
  • not role-modeling the behaviors they are calling for in their juniors
  • assuming/deciding something new won’t work without even trying
  • discouraging entreprenuerial spirit in the organization


  • remembering to stay in learning mode no matter what one’s age
  • letting people innovate for the sake of testing out new things (even if the bill a few hours less!)
  • taking responsibility for developing the firm’s people
  • don’t wait for the next generation of leaders to “deal with it” or fix it–create a better firm while you have the decision power to impact change so that more people will want to be part of the firm’s future

posted on April 3, 2008

Christian ter Maat said:

Partners are not managers and become less and less experts. They earmark, feed and milk their cows (consultants). The result is a white (color) commodity. Professional and services are eroding. Farming equals to repetition and self-developed (worst?) practices. The black and white employees are milked during their careers and we all know what happens at the end a cow’s career.

Solution: get rid of your earmark and escape from the livestock herds.

Christian ter Maat MCC, MMC; international management consultant, based in The Netherlands.

posted on April 3, 2008

Rob Aalders said:

I’d nominate three as someone who has both served in and been served by PS firms.

1. Failing in any duty of care over people ‘on assignment’ unless there is an financial or customer blip.

2. Starting the first interview with the customer with the ‘I’m here to help, tell me about your business’. (I show them the door for that – if they can not be bothered to inform themselves in advance about my business, they are they are declaring their incompetence)

3. Falling for that inane mantra ‘Don’t confuse selling with delivering’. This asinine mantra needs no explanation as to the harm it does.


posted on April 3, 2008

Gordon Ross said:

1. Systemic underdelegation. I think that’s a term I learned from you, David.

2. Saying “yes” too much and “no” not enough.

3. Not keeping promises, thereby erroding credibility (and thus trust).

posted on April 4, 2008

Eric Fetterolf said:

Some of the worst habits I’ve seen, (and yes have been guilty of).

  • Pursuing business that doesn’t fit our services simply to get cash/market share.
  • Providing “estimates” of costs before knowing the complete scope of the work required.
  • Allowing the customer to take control of the project when we know the customer does not have the necessary drive, expertise or time to manage it fully to completion
  • Creating a adverse relationship between the customer and our firm by mis-aligning the customers desire for results with our desire to maximize billing time.
  • Slowing down projects due to being confronted with new/unexplored functionality instead of slowing down the sales cycle and getting out most of the issues.
  • Marketing too much “Me me me” and not enough “customer customer customer”
  • Underinvesting in our PKW education and training

posted on April 4, 2008