A blog by Joel Barolsky of Barolsky Advisors

Archive for June, 2014|Monthly archive page

Can you handle the truth?

In Articles, Commentary on 25 June 2014 at 6:46 am

“Our purpose is to do great work for great clients with a great team.”

“Our core values are excellence, accountability, collaboration, respect and integrity.”

Sound familiar?

Probably so, because many professional service firms, in reality, have quite similar purpose statements and values statements.

There’s nothing wrong with this per se, but given that firms do differ quite a lot, it’s pretty obvious that these statements don’t tell the full story. They’re inadequate in reflecting a firm’s real motivators and the complex set of beliefs and values that shape a firm’s culture. It’s naive to think there are just 4 or 5 core values that drive everything.

Can how you like your coffee really predict your personality?In defining purpose and values, there’s often reasonable alignment around positive things like delivering quality work and client care. But messy things like greed, aggression, white male-bias, secrecy, etc. are glossed over because, well, they’re messy.

Peter Drucker famously said, “culture eats strategy for breakfast”. In my view, it’s imperative that firm leaders get in touch with the full truth about what drives their culture: the good, the bad and the ugly bits. They need to appreciate where partners agree and where there are differences. Without this appreciation, the firm runs a huge risk of partnership disharmony and misfiring in strategy execution.

Mirror mirror on the wall

To assist in mapping a firm’s purpose and culture, I’m happy to share a proprietary diagnostic tool I use in many of my strategy engagements. I refer to it as the Barolsky Barometer in that it reveals the source and scale of key pressure points in the partnership.

The Barometer involves partners completing a short questionnaire individually, and then working through the results collectively. The questionnaire has two parts: the firm [1] “as is” and [2] “should be”. Each question is asked on a continuum with the ends defined. There is no better or best practice end – the intention is just to reflect the truth. To hold up a mirror.

This a real-life example mapping the “should-be” view on the basis of profit-sharing in a 20-partner New Zealand law firm:

In analysing the results it’s fascinating to see the spread of responses, i.e. where there’s consensus and where there’s division, as well as the mode or centre of gravity. Discussing the biggest shifts from “as is” to “should be” is also very instructive.

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