Prac Tech 2016: Jennifer Wilson asks, 'How high-functioning is your firm?'

On Monday, the second day of sessions at the 2016 Practitioners Symposium and Tech+ Conference in Las Vegas, Jennifer Wilson, partner and co-founder of ConvergenceCoaching, spoke on how to contribute to and maintain a high-functioning firm.

Wilson's session explored the characteristics of high-functioning firms and what sets them apart from the competition. More than anything, though, Wilson stressed that the time for change is now, not later.

"The young future leaders of firms are super restless," she told attendees. "I have never felt the demand for change like it is right now."

Wilson noted that staffing is the number one challenge firms face today, with succession a close second as turnover is up, mergers continue, and baby boomers continue to retire. When professionals leave your firm, she says, it usually speaks more to the firm's direction and ideas than anything else.

"People don't leave their firms; they quit their leadership team," Wilson added. "They decide, 'I'm done with them,' or 'I've lost respect for them.'"

Wilson added that factors including the "Graying" (succession), "browning," and "SHE-force" (diversity) of the profession will, and should, continue to affect the current direction of firms. Diversity, especially, is vital to a high-functioning firm as it is "recognizing that the makeup of our next generation of leaders will be different," she noted. "High-functioning firms will embrace this, not deny it."

To stay on top of changes, Wilson advises embracing a "Get-Better Culture," in which "no leader or firm process is above feedback and improvements. Everything in your firm is susceptible to feedback and change. Leaders are imperfect and can always get better every day of their lives. Leaders need feedback to get better."

Wilson noted that millennilas and young people are driving change within firm culture by demanding the following: "A need for a clear vision, engagement with upper-management, desire to work for leaders willing to change, the need for feedback, and increased transparency."

To satisfy these needs, and continue to operate a high-functioning firm, Wilson advises the following characteristics in a firm:

  • Respect (Appreciating and seeking out one another's unique talents and perspectives)
  • Responsibility (Taking responsibility for mistakes and failures. Blame is not assigned)
  • Humility (Giving away credit)
  • Generosity (Encouraging your people to place the needs of the firm and team ahead of individual ambitions)
  • Positivity (Expecting to succeed, but also expecting setbacks)
  • Communication (Thinking strategically about the messages you communicate. Performance and upward feedback is valued)
  • Vision: Pay attention to market trends and demographics; be open to innovation and piloting new processes or ideas. Develop a written 5-year vision and share it. Solicit a variety of viewpoints when defining the firm's vision.
  • Trust: "A high level of trust speeds decision-making and builds confidence to take risks or implement new change," Wilson noted.

"[Firm] vision is like Google Maps," Wilson noted. "If you don't have the destination in mind, then you're just going to drift and coast."
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