A Home Fit For Heroes?
post # 285 — January 16, 2007 — a Strategy post
Thereâ€™s a really good article by Boris Groysberg and Robin Abrahams in the December 2006 issue of the Harvard Business Review called â€œLift Outs: How to Acquire a High-Functioning Team.â€ It provides advice to professional businesses whose strategy is to grow not organically, but by attracting whole departments out of competing firms.
The desire to do this is huge. In a lot of my consulting work in a variety of professions, across the globe, it is amazingly common to find that the core strategy for getting into new markets, locations, disciplines and specialties is to go and raid effective groups that, for one reason or another, are less than completely happy in their current firm and can be â€œlifted outâ€ to the new firm. Building capabilities organically is something that many firms have lost either the patience for or the ability to do.
When â€œdoing strategy,â€ many prominent firms are not really scheming less about how to win clients, nor about how to win in the war for junior talent (who can be subsequently nurtured). What they are REALLY worried about is winning the competition for warlords.
I analogize it to the emerging formation of nation states in mediaeval times, when the barons and warlords throughout had to decide which coalitions they would join, and which emperor they would (temporarily) swear fealty to. In the modern situation, the firm is the (relatively unstable) nation-state. The real power is with the warlords who have the â€œfollowing.â€
So, the main question firms are asking themselves nowadays is: How can we make OUR firm the firm that the best warlords (those with the established reputations and existing book of business) will find the most attractive?
Itâ€™s proving to be an interesting question.
Thereâ€™s a lot of firms out there hoping that their strategic problem will be solved by a white knight coming in from the outside and solving the firmâ€™s problems without the current citizens having to change much.
However, ask any headhunter and he or she will tell you that one of the major concerns of warlords is that they do not want the surplus that they generate (or at least that they think they generate) siphoned off, so they donâ€™t like to join firms that donâ€™t have tough discipline throughout the rest of the firm. Powerful warlords donâ€™t want to join a firm of unenergetic underperformers.
But notice a degree of circularity here. If the rest of the population begins to â€œraise its gameâ€ to make the firm a more attractive place for the new warlords, maybe the current population doesnâ€™t NEED the warlords! Maybe they can succeed themselves.
But the core question remains: what makes an emerging nation-state (i.e., a firm) an attractive place for the best warlords? Assuming it does (indeed) want to attract these â€œlift outs,â€ whatâ€™s the best way to run your firm so that the warriors want to come with you?
Stephen Seckler said:
The best way to attract the “warlords” is to have a compelling story to tell. Most firms are quick to say they want to grow by adding partners with $1,000,000 in corporate business; but few offer compelling reasons why someone should want to move their practice. Everyone says that they offer a collegial and entrepreneurial environment where profits are growing. The key is finding a way to differentiate your firm from the pack.
The importance of positioning the firm as a great platform for a “warlord” is twofold. For starters, if you can articulate the synergies that the new partner will experience and you can convey that the firm has a real strategy, then you are more likely to get the attention of the rainmakers in the first place. But the other compelling reason is that you want to find partners who want to move for “positive” reasons (i.e. they are not just running from a hornet’s nest.) The best lateral prospects are partners who get along well at their existing firm but see ways that the new platform can help the partner to better achieve his or her goals.
posted on January 16, 2007