There is one often overlooked aspect of a firm’s growth, and that is the structure on which firms operate. In our consulting we call it a "Team Structure," and it is a visible view of how the roles of the firm are placed together in order to get the most use out of each role. As firms grow, the Team Structure must change.
Often touted as a cliche, “what got you here won’t get you there” actually describes a solid reality of firm growth. As revenue in a firm grows, the team size necessarily grows larger too. And when this happens, glutted firms often bog down, slow their service, and become very inefficient. Inefficient firms are often unprofitable firms.
For more teaching on this topic, you can watch my latest webinar as part of Bill.com’s Scaling Growth webinar series: Efficient Creation of Firm Roles that Scale. This webinar describes the importance of the creation of firm roles, how to restructure, how efficiency leads to profitability, and so much more! Watch any time on demand.
Scaling Roles, not People
There is a nuance to firm scaling. Scaling and restructuring is done around designated roles, not the people that fill those roles. I’ll explain the nuance. People are highly creative, and thus are prone to distraction in regards to their minds, emotions, wants, desires, etc. So structuring is never done around the whims of people. Instead, firm restructuring begins with the creation of a visible Team Structure (we have our own growth models that employ these methods), and the building blocks to a Team Structure, which are the roles in the firm. The strategy of structuring or (re)structuring a firm is first done without the consideration of the humans. Once the Team Structure is designed and fitted with the appropriate roles, then you ask people to fill those roles and explain to them what it takes to fulfill the role appropriately. It’s hard to grasp the importance of this concept but it is key to building a firm that will actually scale sustainably (which means scales consistently over time).
The strategy of structuring a firm is first done without the consideration of the humans.
Another difficult concept to grasp is that owners are not actually part of the roles of a firm. Huh? Let me explain. A firm partner or owner is simply a legal designation as to who owns the firm. And that has nothing to do with the structuring of the firm that is meant to scale appropriately. This may be confusing, but let me be clear: owners that ALSO take on a role in a firm are a big part of the firm scaling. I’ll say it another way: owners don’t grow firms, but owners who take on an executive role to lead a firm often find success and growth.
One issue we watch out for when consulting is when owners do not work in the firm, or take roles other than executive/leadership roles in the firm. Why is this? Because we know from experience that owners who have not taken on an appropriate role can fly in from left field and blow up the strategy of firm building. Owners have the legal power to put on their owner hat and by simply disagreeing, they can set back all of the strategy work being done with the leadership team to scale the firm. Taking this concept further, titling roles is a creative and very important part of firm restructuring. Firms traditionally take on a title of ‘Partner’ yet this does not perform the signaling of value that firm titles are meant to provide. ‘Partner’ only represents the legal designation in the firm (again, which is not part of scaling a firm). A title is an important way to let the team and the clients know what that role in the firm is meant to do. Proper titling of roles creates awareness and clarity and helps everyone around know how to interact with that role as they fulfill their own role.
Owners are not actually part of the roles of a firm
I want to summarize where we’ve come up to this point:
We have been discussing the building blocks of firm scaling.
We’ve emphasized the importance (and difference) between the people in your firm and the roles that they embody.
This difference is key and you’ll see this importance when you actually go through the process of restructuring your firm (which you can do with our organization Thriveal firstname.lastname@example.org).
You may learn that people struggle to take on the role or uphold their role long-term as you are trying to grow.
If you want to scale your firm, understanding the above concepts and how people take on a role is very important, and will allow you to be successful.
Bridging People and Roles
Let’s turn now to how you get creative, distractible people to take on structured and specific roles that are meant to scale. This was a turning point in our webinar and it’s important to highlight. Asking people to step into strategically designed roles doesn’t always go well. That’s because people are up and down. Their emotions can be all over the place, and their minds can remain distracted with personal problems and the issues we all live with as humans. A role in a firm however needs to be embodied and fulfilled consistently or the firm can’t scale. So how do you make sure distractible humans embody their roles consistently in a way that helps them grow as people and allows the firm to scale profitably?
Firm leaders do this work. Consistently. It’s why Partners must instead take on the role of CEO, or COO and do the work of keeping the human team on task to fulfill their roles. This leadership work never ends. Human teams are always drifting as we say in consulting. Humans are prone to move toward their own personal situation and drift away from accountable spaces where other teams are found. So it is the role of the leader of the firm (I’ll say it again, not the partner) to invite the team into relationships that hold them accountable to their role and ask them to consistently fulfill their duties, while making sure the firm’s human needs are also being met.
During the webinar, we explained this work of leaders bridging the gap between distractible humans and strategically designed role, and shared 9 things leaders can do to create efficient firm roles that lead to profitability:
1. Build A Visible Team Structure To See Your Team’s Role Placement
To pull all of these concepts together it takes a visible chart to view it all from. We have specific ways we do this in consulting and it is an important step leaders need to go through to actually visualize the strategy of the Team Structure.
2. Change The Team Structure Regularly When You Grow
Firms need to consider revamping their Team Structure (and possibly roles) every 5 to 8 team members that are added to the firm. Remember: what got you here won’t get you there. Changing your structure is imperative as you grow.
3. Title Roles Creatively And Accurately According To The Role Being Performed
Creation of a role is important so you can get everything done that you need to accomplish in your firm. A title is an important step in designating to everyone-including clients-what that role actually entails. The clarity of roles is not only beneficial for the team member fulfilling that role, it is also a helpful ‘signaling tool’ that tells others around the role what its purpose is.
4. Use And Maintain A Project Management/Workflow System
A project management system is the breakdown of the scope being sold to clients. Putting it into a list of tasks for team members to perform and check off brings a visible view of required tasks each role is meant to perform.
5. Use Job Descriptions With Every Team Role Including Their Agreed Upon Hours
Job descriptions should be required for each and every role in the firm. This is the ‘service contract’ that the team member agrees to before they start work. And it helps the firm and the team member stay on the same page as to what their role is meant to do for the firm.
6. Use Client Contracts For Every Engagement (Whether Project Or Recurring)
Every amount of revenue in a firm should also have a written contract attached to the revenue. This helps the firm and the clients stay on the same page as to what the clients are paying for and what the roles in the firm are meant to produce.
7. Meet With The Full Team At Least Weekly In The Same Rhythm (Same Day, Same Time)
Pulling the team together regularly reminds everyone visually and emotionally that they are all part of something larger than just their individual role. When you sink this deep into the rhythms of the firm, it becomes the place to drive culture and allow everyone to stay healthy.
8. Meet With Each Team Privately To Ask Key Questions About Their Work And Priorities
Leaders that meet with their team on a regular basis clear up the assumptions, so that everyone is working from the same sheet of music. Leaders and teams that are going in different directions create chaos and do not allow the firm to scale appropriately.
9. Peel Roles Apart When They Become Too Glutted
As firms grow, the roles ‘fill up’ over time. For example, a Tax Manager in a firm with 15 people is different from a Tax Manager role in a firm with 45 team members. That role must be redesigned, restated with a new Job Description, and possibly peeled apart into 2 Tax Managers, or into 2 different types of Manager roles.
Remember: what got you here won’t get you there.
As we wrap up this discussion on efficient roles and how this work allows firms to scale, it’s important to remember a few things: Firm owners can not mandate firm efficiency in humans. Humans are typically not very efficient, so the goal is to create an efficient firm that leaders consistently help team members remain accountable to fulfilling. As a result of this leadership work, efficiency can become more and more a part of the operations of the firm. Thus, efficiency is a by-product of building roles well and leading teams to embody those roles.
Ready for more instruction and intention? If you are ready to dive into these concepts even more, join us at Thriveal’s live Deeper Weekend Conference this year where we will dive into these concepts in more depth. You can register here and join us in Greenville, SC October 20 - 22, 2021. Bill.com will be there too!