The world of professional services has numerous differences to the corporate world. One of these differences is that fee-earners within professional services retain an element of client or ‘technical’ work regardless of whether they are a trainee, newly qualified or a partner. Most professional service firms don’t have a neat, orderly structure – they are a matrix organisation, with a pool of talent that assignment managers can call upon.

Promotion in a professional services firm can often be a messy procedure. Many firms make their promotions at set points in the year, others promote on-demand. Either way, most people are doing the role, before the official title comes their way. Retention of talent in a professional service firm relies on staff members being able to progress their career within the firm.

In the next three blog posts, I am going to look at the skills and values that must change in a person, as they climb the management ladder within a professional services firm.

New, young employees usually spend their early years in a formal or informal training contract, building their technical skill set, understanding and accepting the firm’s culture, and getting professional qualifications under their belt. At this stage in their career, they are normally an individual contributor within the firm, working on different assignments for different assignment managers.

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As the individual deepens their technical skill set, and gets a reputation for producing good results, in a timely fashion, and collaborating well in a team, they are often promoted… or given more responsibility so that eventually they are running an assignment unaided. Many firms make the mistake of promoting people from ‘individual contributor’ to ‘assignment manager’, without helping them develop the new skill set and values needed from an assignment manager.

Just to confuse you a little more, titles give to assignment managers can vary from supervisor, manager, associate, consultant, senior consultant, managing consultant etc

An assignment manager needs to be able to plan work, allocate resources and work, budget, build a team, motivate, develop and coach others and measure the work of others. These new skills and responsibilities need to be mastered, as well as knowing what work to delegate down and what to keep. All too often, ineffective assignment managers will hold onto work, rather than delegate it down and fail to allocate time to manage the people on the assignment. To avoid this, senior members of the firm, need to help new assignment managers reallocate some of their time to helping members of their assignment team perform effectively, as well as get their own work done.

A values shift is needed when a person moves into an assignment manager role. They must learn to value the managerial work, rather than tolerating it. This is often a hard pill to swallow, as a professional service attracts people who like being technical specialists.

In my next blog post, I will be looking at the transition a person must make when they go from assignment manager to ‘manager of managers’.

Click here to download our free Career Action Plan template and full instructions on how to use it to move your career forward. (email required)

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