The Secrets of their Success

If you have ever wondered what successful firms do, wonder no more. It’s a question that we have been asking ourselves since we began consulting, and after a combined 60 years of consulting, we believe we have the answers and want to share them with you.

We developed a list. Now, every firm is not perfect in each of these areas. But those firms that want to become the firm of choice in their chosen markets by moving up to the next level all focus on these activities.

When you examine our list, determine where your firm would lie on a scale from 1 to 10 — 1 being that you are not doing the activity and 10 implying that you have solved the issue and your partners are aligned with it.

We created a brief scoring at the end of the article. The important thing is figuring out what you need to do to get better and then starting your execution plan.

Here’s our list of what the best firms do:

1. They have a clear vision and strategies for getting there. A vision without strategies is meaningless. We have found that in the best firms there is a shared understanding of what to do and shared commitment to achievement. These firms are not afraid to make tough people and market choices. And most importantly, the partners model the behavior needed to deliver sustained success. Your people and your partners will never change unless they see that the leaders start behaving differently.

2. They think about markets as well as clients. Markets today are constantly changing, and partners, who should be the first line of defense, need to continually scan the competitive environment. By doing this they can anticipate market changes and look for opportunities to enhance the firm’s service offering. With this intelligence the firm can decide what to do and what resources to invest in order to deliver the new offerings.

3. They develop a deep, deep client orientation. This is how they develop their brand name. Their reputation for delivering outstanding solutions precedes them. It’s all about providing solutions that are meaningful for the clients. If you do this, clients will actively seek you out. You will become part of the clients’ “institutional memory” and you will be the first port of call.

4. The firm’s people are as important as the firm’s clients. These firms have a reputation that it’s a hard place to be hired into, a hard place to be promoted, and a hard place to stay — but, when people move on, they do so as friends. In addition, the firm is committed to helping its people develop their expertise either inside or outside of the firm. Finally, the firm cares about its people, going out of its way to help with both work and personal situations.

5. They have a high-performance culture. Getting into these firms is not easy and when you do get in, everyone in the firm wants to be the best, to go the extra mile, and to seek new solutions that force competitors to react.

6. They have outstanding execution. These firms leverage ideas and expertise, regardless of their origin, to deliver client value. They focus on client solutions that are at the forefront of their thinking. Talking about something is not enough. It’s all about doing.

7. They embrace the one-firm concept. The partners put the firm before their personal interest. They realize that the team, not the individual, is what matters. Stars and lone wolves are downplayed. They believe and live an embedded set of principles and practices that maximize the trust and loyalty people feel for both the firm and their colleagues.

8. They have a strong culture and shared values. Their values are what hold the firm together, and if someone does not live the values, the firm is intolerant of wrong behavior. In these firms, the partners walk together. Yes, they disagree, but at the end of the day, they agree to agree.

9. They practice a highly collaborative style. People in these firms go out of their way to help each other. It’s not about me, but us. You can see this in the most successful firms because people have confidence in their colleagues to introduce them to their clients.

10. They have strong partnerships. In successful firms, partners see themselves as custodians of the firm’s future, creating an even better firm for the people who follow them. As we have said, the partners share and police the firm’s vision, values and strategies.

11. They have an absolute commitment to recruiting the right people. Not only do these firms recruit the right people, they get them into the right seats. Often the top partners lead the recruitment efforts. When they recruit, they recruit for cultural fit as well as technical competence. While qualifications are important, they focus on the individual.

12. They believe that developing their professionals is at the core of the firm’s beliefs and activities. Partners pass on their knowledge and expertise by actively coaching and mentoring. They realize that learning happens where the work gets done.

13. They are committed to staying at the top. These firms realize that they can never rest on their laurels. They are always looking for new ways to do things better.

You may think that the above 13 items are overwhelming. No firm does everything 100 percent right. Even the “best of the best” are still working on areas. You might want to take one or two of the easiest things to improve upon. These are low-hanging fruit and will give you and your team some successes and confidence that you can start the change process. Start today! You will become a better firm with happier people. You have a great deal to gain if you go down this road and much to lose if you don’t.



The maximum score is 130. If you gave yourself this score, you might want to go back and re-examine your answers. All firms can improve in one or more areas. There will be only a handful of firms that have a score between 117 and 130. Several will fall in the 104-116 category, and the majority will be in the 91-103 group. Firms with a score of 90 or less should seek outside help and advice.

Here’s how the scores break down:

  • 117–130: Your firm is one of the best. Congratulations!
  • 104–116: Your firm is moving in the right direction. You’re doing a good job!
  • 91–103: Your firm is on the fence. Decide now which way you want to go.
  • 78-90: Take the time now to get better. Get help!
  • Below 78: Your firm needs help now!

Robert Lees is a founding partner and director of Moller PSF Group Cambridge, and co-author of When Professionals Have to Lead. Reach him at August Aquila is CEO of Aquila Global Advisors, and co-author of Compensation as a Strategic Asset and Client at the Core. Reach him at or (952) 930-1295.

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