Is Managing Professionals Different?
post # 378 — May 18, 2007 — a Managing post
As a specialist (historically, at least) in managing professional service firms, I often get asked whether (and how) managing professionals or managing a professional firm is different from management â€œin general.â€
(Sometimes the question is posed as how leadership of professionals differs from leadership in general.)
As time goes by, Iâ€™m increasingly coming to the belief that the differences are minor, if they exist at all. This is mostly because itâ€™s a good idea to treat EVERYBODY as a professional.
This doesnâ€™t always go over well. I was being considered to do some educational sessions for managers in a (super-successful) investment bank and was asked how what I would present would reflect the special nature of their people — highly intelligent, already successful, already energetic and motivated, etc.
I really stuck my foot in my mouth when I said that the key to managing ANYONE, even a secretary, was to treat them with respect, deal with them as individuals, assume that (until proven otherwise) they were intelligent and interested in excitedly pursuing a cause or vision of excellence that they could believe in, help them find the individual, personal challenge that would match their interests and passions, etc., etc.,
Apparently, I gave great offense, because the individual I was talking to replied: â€œWhat do you mean, itâ€™s not different from managing a secretary? Our people are SPECIAL!!â€
Now, Iâ€™m not so naÃ¯ve as to realize that I could have phrased it better. (I often get into trouble for being blunt and refusing to play into peopleâ€™s underlying assumptions. Iâ€™m a less diplomatic trusted advisor than Iâ€™d like to be.)
However, if you ignore my language skills and get to the underlying issue, thereâ€™s an important debate there. Just because someoneâ€™s a â€œprofessionalâ€ does that mean that they need to be managed in different ways, with different skills?
Iâ€™m not asking the moral question here, but the pragmatic, practical one. If you were put in charge of managing a group of â€œpartnersâ€ (i.e. senior VPs, shareholders) would your approach to managing be different than it would be if you were in charge of a group of admin staff?
Phrase it another way: If you were going to put on a course on how to be a good manager, would you cover different material if you were training managers of senior professionals or managers of admin staff?
I have experience managing both inside and outside the legal industry and I sometimes catch myself longing for the good old days. In general, I try to keep my management technique the same toward the different groups within the legal community. However, the difference lies in that the “professional” group expects to be treated/managed differently – it is definitely like herding cats every day. Managing legal professionals is more demanding because of their independent nature and in most cases, because they own the firm. Other employees, or non-owners, generally follow direction because they realize the consequences if they do not (except when they are protected by their timekeepers). There are few if any consequences for owners. So I must admit to managing professionals differently out of necessity.
I appreciate your wisdom and have referred to your books quite often. Keep up the great work!
posted on May 18, 2007