Sunday, January 30, 2005

Are Professional Services Firms Doomed to be Passive Aggressive Organizations?

At Law Marketing by Andy Havens Andy offered some thoughts about the lack of participation by partners in firm marketing activities. Unfortunately, this non-participatory attitude is not exclusive to law firms. I have run into this sort of behavior at all types of professional services firms that operate under a partnership structure. The question I ask myself is; ‘Why?’

In researching this tendency I have noticed a lot of similarities between the behavior of partnerships (with regard to marketing participation) and traits of a “passive-aggressive” personality.

The Passive-Aggressive (PAP) personality results from; ‘results from desiring, needing, and delighting in the freedom to do as one pleases; and from fearing, and being distressed by, not getting or losing the freedom to do as one pleases. Further traits of PAP are:

  • Fear of Dependency - Unsure of autonomy & afraid of being alone, fights dependency needs - usually by trying to control those around them.
  • Fear of Intimacy - Guarded & often mistrustful. He picks fights to create distance and maintain control.
  • Fear of Competition - Feeling inadequate, he is unable to compete with others. He may either be self-sabotaging or a tyrant to eliminate power threats.
  • Obstructionaism – Will make promises and intentionally delay delivery or will not comply at all to blocks any real progress to your getting your way.
  • Fostering Chaos - Prefers to leave the puzzle incomplete, the job undone.
  • Feeling Victimized - Protests that others unfairly accuse him rather than owning up to own misdeeds. To remain above reproach, plays the part of hapless innocent victim of excessive demands and tirades.
  • Making Excuses & Lying - Fabricates excuses for not fulfilling promises. Uses information to control and maintain power.
  • Procrastination - Has an odd sense of time - believes that deadlines don't exist for self.
  • Chronic Lateness & Forgetfulness - Inability to arrive on time. By forcing other to wait can dictate the ground rules of the relationship. Selective forgetting - used only when avoiding an obligation.
  • Ambiguity - Master of mixed messages and sitting on fences. Will make statements that fall on both sides of yes or no.
  • Sulking – Feels put upon when unable to live up to promises or obligations and retreats from pressures (sulks, pouts and withdraws).

Many and all of the traits above can be witnessed at most partnerships. And the reason, I believe, is the very culture a partnership structure encourages. Here is my reasoning…

  • First, the type of individual that is successful as an attorney, accountant, consultant, etc. is highly intellectual, typically have high drive, excellent attention to detail and nuance, and are confident about his/her ability to make good choices.
  • Second, a partner is placed in competition within his/her own firm for power and recognition having to compete against a field of equally qualified individuals. This struggle is evidenced by the what successes are rewarded, how they’re rewarded, and the importance placed on political savvy within these firms.
  • Third, partners answer only to themselves or the firm. If a partner does not wish to “play along” (especially if they are a high-dollar rainmaker) they can and will tell everyone that they are going to what they want to do thank you.
  • Forth, agreement among partners often has a political price tag.
  • Fifth, effort is reserved for what is measured – the billable hour
  • Sixth, many non-rainmaking partners have experienced sufficient success without having to demonstrate any interest in external market or network building activities (complacency), and unless something happens to interrupt the flow of work they are being fed they have no reason to change.

Of course, none of this is to say that partnerships are a failure. They are not! This is commentary specific to the marketing capabilities and tendencies within partnerships.

What do I think is the solution? I don’t believe there is one unless partnerships change the power and control structure of their firms. If they were to adopt the organizational structure and principles of a public corporation many marketing issues would disappear with the absolute control of many by a few.

These are just my thoughts. What are your?