Digital Transformation Today

Does Everyone Need to be a Subject Matter Expert?

When I was running a Global Professional Services (PS) organization, I frequently heard, “I need ‘Jane Smith’ on this project!” I would say, “Ok. What do you need Jane to do?” [Jane was one of our lead Technical Architect subject matter experts (SME)…and she was great at her job.]

Often, I was met with, “Well, I just need Jane.” OR “She’s the best and that is what we need for this client and project.”

I got it. The Sales Representativeor Account Executivejust wanted to put Jane on the project to sleep easy and not worry about the client complaining or the project going off the rails.

This was all great for Jane’sannualreview and ego – but it sure wasn’t possible to scale the PS organizationon the back of one person.

I want to say I solved the problem without issue. But any PS executivewho has worked for more than a week knows the difficulty in swapping a different resource.

To effectively change the culture, I had to find a way to instill confidence in the Sales Representative/Account Executivethat ‘Mike Jones’ could deliver. That’s no easy task when Mike had only two weeks tenure with the company (even though he’s got 12 years of work experience in the field).

I had to look back at my 12+ years at a Big 6 Consulting Firm – and my own experience of being thrown into leading a client engagement when I was likely 1 to 2 years’ experience away frombeingat that level.

The long and short of it is, most PS organizations are built on heroics – the ability of a few people to get it done (often in the 11th hour) and keep the client happy.

The problem is – heroics inhibit the organization’s ability to grow.

So, what to do?

Talk to any client of a Big 6 consulting firm in the 90s/00s, and you’ll hear stories of the “kids” that show up to do the work. My uncle was one of those clients that often referenced how young (and by that, I think he meant ‘inexperienced’) the consultants that showed up to do the work were. He would then, at some point, add, “but they get the job done.”

The critical components to the success of the Big 6 model – and what PS organizations need to do to drive personnel development are:

  1. The Master-Apprentice Model1
  2. A robust Knowledge Management process

Successful consulting firms don’t have “the best resource” to do all the work. Instead, they get leverage out of the best. Once you are pretty good at what you do, there is someone just behind you that is effectively apprenticing with you, learning from you – so that you are not the only one that can do the work. This Master-Apprentice model dates to [FILL IN THE BLANK] …it’s how Residents become Doctors and how junior lawyers become Partners. It’s how people-based businesses gain leverage.

The second thing successful PS organizations do is put in place a rigorous Knowledge Management process. At a minimum, this involves collecting, cataloging, and providing access to past deliverables – so that those same apprentices have a place to go to see how to do it. (Note – you’ll also find that themasters use this tool too.) Beyond putting in a Knowledge Management process and system, the PS organizations that gain even further leverage package up those highly successful deliverables intorepeatable methodologies and packaged offerings.

PS organizations that do both things gain much greater leverage from a cross-section of their resources.

It’s a win for:

  1. The PS Organization – as they have fewer fires to fight with Sales Reps & AccountExecutives.
  2. The Company – as there is more significant revenue growth potential.
  3. Jane Smith – who no longer needs to be in 3 places at the same time.

Stay tuned for more on how packaged offerings help accelerate services sales in a future post.
Author: Mark E Sloan, Practice Lead | [email protected]

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[1] The Master-Apprentice model originated in the ~12th century. The model was traditionally used to teach trade skills – and in the modern world has been put in place to transfer knowledge and skills in professional practices such as: engineering, law, accounting, architecture, and management consulting. (see reference here)

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