by Bruce W. Marcus
It’s not difficult to understand in this economic environment why the word change looms so large in professional services dialogue.
The nature of the professions, rooted as they are in history and tradition, can be fairly rigid, and resistant to innovation. But the times seem to have accelerated the need for new ideas and structures to cope with new economic and social problems and opportunities.
The accounting profession, even as we know it today, is practically pre-historic, and is now so bound by traditions, rules, regulations, and laws, that any suggestion of serious structural change is seen as a virtual assault on the professions. The codification of law firms and the legal profession go back about as far, and are just as resistant to innovation. In both cases, the rigidity in the professions is designed to maintain integrity and probity, as well as efficiency in firm governance. If the nature of products allows for constant and rapid change to match changing tastes and fashions, the nature of professional services requires a measure of uniformity and predictability.
But now, there are cracks appearing in the wall. The potential for conflict between the ethical rules and their protection of integrity, and the need for successful competitive marketing, can be intense.
Still, some things in the professions are different now than they were about a decade ago.
- We now have, for example, an increasing number of firms replacing hourly billing with value billing.
- We now have social media and we have bounding changes in technology.
- Firm governance is beginning to resemble corporate structure, and indeed,
- There is talk of firms going public (which I predicted about two decades ago when it became clear that the growth of the professions would require infusion of more capital than could be supplied by the partnership. This is the kind of situation that begins an evolutionary process.)
- Where once associates who seemed not to be partner material were let go, now they are being kept for their specific talents and experience – the so-called two-tier firm.
- The accounting profession, recognizing the growth of globalization, is now seriously considering international accounting standards. (I helped run a vast international conference in England on the subject some two decades ago, and wrote a book on it with Columbia University’s John Burton. And they’re just beginning to act on it?)
The changes in professional firm practices seem to be coming fast, giving rise to Professional Services Marketing 3.0.