And don’t forget the Support Staff

Much, perhaps too much, is made of ‘fee earning’. Yes, absent (profitable) billing there would be no firm, but everything else gets taken for granted.

In particular, and at the top of the non-appreciation pile, sit the support staff:
Secretaries;
Credit control;
Finance;
HR;
Facilities; and
Reception.
[I have deliberately left out marketing at this stage.]
I have waxed lyrical about service. For me it is the one true differentiator, although most firms have no clear idea what it means to truly serve. Whether it is the partnership being of service to their staff or your clients, it passes off as ‘the minimum we can get away with’.
However, in the case of support staff, normally being at least one layer removed from the client action, they don’t always get *it*. Some do, and usually in spades but for a lot they see clients as creating a problem.
But just imagine a scenario where you were superpleasing all your clients and they all paid on time. Oops there goes credit control, and a good proportion of the work that finance do.
And what about treating your staff in such a way that none of them ever wanted to leave: you paid the best, you offered the best training, and the partnership was in service to them? Not quite the end of HR, but its role would certainly be neutered.
In all that drive for profit the support staff are the forgotten tribe but they are the ones now who are keeping things sewn together. Without some people and some departments, the firm would have folded.
But:
You don’t pay enough attention to their role(s) within the firm.
You don’t remunerate them in a way that mirrors their importance to the firm.
Can you honestly say that they are the most of … their current role or fulfilling their maximum potential?
I can’t order you to do anything (how arrogant) but I would implore you to look at the number of meetings you have where billing, business development and marketing get discussed and how few that are dedicated to the role of your support staff. I know ‘they’ meet once in a while but this is just tokenism.
Every team meeting should include everyone (space allowing) and there will be a no excuse culture.
But you have to play your part in making things fizz.
No more status updates.
If you have to mention the figures then fine, but spend the minimum time you have to. People understand the need to bill. Banging on about it every month is the least inpsiring and meaningful way to get better performance.
You should start listening to what your support staff are telling you. Yes, you will get the naysayers but the well-meaning ones will tell you about your weaknesses in service more so than your fee earners. Why? Self-preservation. Fee earners rarely want to concede they are doing a bad job.
As well as listening, start thinking about their roles. Very few support staff are really being stretched. This is not a case of monitoring the secretaries for their typing output but practising MBWA (Managing by Wandering About) and understanding what they need to do their jobs better, to be happy and to be allowed a greater say in things.
In the final analysis the more your support staff are doing of their best, the more likely it is that their oiling of the tracks will be the differentiator that you need to capture new work or develop existing client relationships. It is that important.
Summary
This post can’t really do justice to the support staff issue. In fact, I could probably write a whole book on the subject. I implore you though to take the issue much more seriously. Make it a meaningful agenda item at your next meeting, and not something to moan about (or them) all the time.
~ Julian Summerhayes ~

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