A blog by Joel Barolsky of Barolsky Advisors

Three essential topics for your 2014 strategic agenda

In Articles, Commentary on 14 January 2014 at 11:26 am

This is a good time to do a quick stress test of your firm’s 2014 strategic agenda.

Looking at the list of strategic priorities you should be asking: [1] is there a reasonable balance between today’s business and tomorrow’s business; [2] have we been brave enough in tackling our sacred cows; [3] have we adequately addressed client, market and competitive challenges; [4] is the list too long/are we trying to do too much; and [5] is everyone committed to the same list?

You may wish to take your stress test one step further by asking whether these three critically important topics have been considered:

  1. Innovation
  2. Co-venturing
  3. Leadership capacity.


Late last year I was quoted in The Australian Financial Review and The Australian on the rapidly changing dynamics of the legal and accounting markets. What’s clear is that these markets are displaying classic signs of market maturity: new entrants, product commoditisation, mergers and client demands for more and to pay less.

Latte-Art-16The old saying, “when the going gets tough, the tough get going”, could not be truer. Firms that are not looking to innovate and make step-change improvements will simply fail. The market will no longer tolerate mediocrity.

The problem with “innovation” is that it’s very broad concept and means many things to different people. My strong advice is that if you want to address innovation in your firm, you need to define it for yourselves. Without this clarity, everything will quickly be lumped into the innovation bucket and when it’s everything, it’s nothing.

To illustrate how you might commence on this innovation journey, I recently ran a successful half-day “kick-start” innovation workshop for a client (XYZ). The workshop yielded two key outcomes: XYZ’s specific definition and approach to innovation and five high-impact innovation opportunities for the firm to action.  The workshop covered:

  • Why is innovation important
  • Types of innovation inc.  process, product, people, pricing and positioning
  • Reshaping culture to become a more innovative and agile firm
  • Case studies in successful innovation amongst professional service firms
  • XYZ’s definition and approach to innovation
  • Brainstorming XYZ innovation opportunities
  • Priortising the XYZ’s best ideas
  • Action plans to advance XYZ’s innovation approach and to develop the top few ideas.


The second strategic agenda topic is about asking the question: “which other businesses in your universe would be best to partner or co-venture with?” Co-venturing might enable rapid entry into new markets, accessing new technologies, acquiring complementary capabilities and de-risking new product development. Partners might include other types of professional service firms, suppliers, intermediaries and even competitors.

Traditional firms might be able to leap-frog the innovation and R&D process by partnering with a start-up business with a new service delivery model. This is one option to avoid disrupting your core operations and to bypass conservative cultural constraints prevalent in many firms.

One great co-venturing example is the initiative between environmental engineering firm, Energetics, and accounting firm, BDO. They’ve worked collaboratively to provide carbon auditing and assurance services in Australia. The two parties have brought complementary capabilities to the table enable each to compete more effectively:

  • BDO –  audit process and risk management; in-depth knowledge in the audit of company finances, financial accounting systems and performing transactional-based audit analytics.
  • Energetics – well-recognised emission knowledge and reputation across wide range of industries; largest group of technical specialists in Australia in greenhouse reporting, grants and renewable schemes. 

Leadership capacity

The third critical issue that all firms should examine is their leadership capacity. I see many firms with highly skilled CEOs or Managing Partners but with moderately competent team leaders. Teams, be they client, work-type, office, internal service, project or industry teams, are where all the action happens. They’re the bedrock of the firm.

In the past, a buoyant market masked the lack of leadership talent and allowed teams to thrive largely on auto-pilot. This, in my view, is no longer the case. If your firm does not have the current and future capacity to lead teams, it will always under-perform and succession will become a major headache.

Developing leadership capacity is not a quick-fix, easy issue to address. It’s NOT about running a 2-day leadership training program and expecting everyone to walk out as Nelson Mandela. 27 years in jail is not a feasible alternative either!

Building leadership capacity is about a systematic developmental approach tailored to each individual. From experience, it’s expensive, risky and delivers returns over a long time period. In other words, a prime candidate for the ‘too hard basket’. Notwithstanding this, there is much merit in doing an honest assessment of your leadership talent and to develop a plan to address the key gaps and to realise the potential that’s there.

Dread or delight

In 2014 we have the FIFA World Cup in Brazil, the Winter Olympics in Russia and a mouthwatering cricket test series in South Africa to look forward to. With a robust strategic agenda in hand, hopefully you are looking forward to 2014 with more delight than dread. I wish you and your firm everything of the best for the year ahead.

  1. Hi Joel

    Happy new year.

    This is a good post. Great to have some ideas on how to kick start innovation and change in a firm, not only the need to. Also co venturing well worth exploring more.

    See you soon.


  2. Thanks Joel. Interesting article.

  3. […] I mentioned in my last Relationship Capital post, there is much merit in asking the question: “which other businesses in your universe would […]

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