Innovation is vital in today’s competitive market. If you give your people the chance to experiment with technology, to think creatively and develop new ideas, then everyone will benefit (including your firm) as other employees will buy into their new approach and refreshing strategy. So some professional services firms have a big problem…Accountants are often known for their love of detail and checks and balances and lawyers for their love of regulation and rhetoric. Such procedure and process can stifle the imagination and stunt creativity. So how can you spot these firms and what can you do about it?

Habit 1 – They make decisions…slowly

If it takes your firm weeks or even months to make a decision then you just can’t be innovative, nimble and stay relevant, so why don’t you…

Scrap decision making by committee. 

Committees, by their very nature, are cumbersome and sluggish. By the time you can persuade a large group of people to be on the same page at the same time, your ideas are likely to be dead in the water and you will have been superseded by smaller, more agile groups who can challenge the status quo, analyse a problem quickly and take a leap of faith into new and exciting worlds.

Habit 2 – They dislike ‘outsiders’ opinions

If you only ever talk to the same people who see the world as you do, you will always get the same answers, so why don’t you…

Look outside the firm for bright ideas. 

Too many professional services firms just keep on doing what they have done for centuries as their profit is building, often in spite of them and not because of them. Some have become self-satisfied, complacent and dismissive of external agencies. They think that they know it all and are suspicious of ‘outsiders’ who might come in and challenge their way of working and remove their safety blankets. But embrace it. Other people’s opinions and knowledge might help. They might spark an idea that will change the way you think about things.

Habit 3 – They reward complacency

If you reward people to play it safe, then that’s exactly what they will do, so why don’t you…

Think about what behaviours you are encouraging. 

Power and influence are often closely associated with success – the partners who earn the largest fees and who secure the most valuable client relationships can be seen to have the Midas touch and are rewarded with high status roles and are rarely challenged.  Consequently, other employees are sometimes reluctant to try anything new as they are told ‘this is how we do it here’. This way of thinking makes others afraid to try new things, as they know that failure might negatively impact upon their professional standing.  This attitude must change as it conveys completely the wrong idea about real innovation, which recognises and accepts that new ideas will often fail at the outset. But that, of course, doesn’t mean that they won’t ultimately succeed. If you are not failing, then you are not innovating.

Habit 4 – They LOVE their comfort zone

'If you do what you’ve always done, you'll get what you’ve always got', so why don’t you…

Take your partners out of their comfort zone. 

Remove them from the boardroom where they feel safe, secure and confident and shake things up. Stick them in a muddy field with only a bottle of water and a compass for company.  Add some heavy rain and thick fog and they will soon have to face failure head on and adapt. This is an extreme enforced adaptation and battle for survival but even small changes to comfort levels will encourage them to look below the surface and into the hidden depths of their own ingenuity and innovation is sure to follow. How about starting with getting rid of offices and making all partners sit in an open plan office?

Habit 5 – They always follow

If you act like a sheep you'll never be out in front, so why don’t you…

Be the first to try something new. 

Too many accountants and lawyers want others to test the market before they dare to put their own toes into the water. You should never be prepared to sit back and follow just because you are afraid of failure. Sometimes you just have to take a leap of faith, to disrupt and to challenge. Without this optimism you can never become a market leader, as your tenet will always be ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it?’

So are you ready to lead from the front, shake things up and make a difference? If so, try something new and, if it doesn’t work, just try again. Great things don’t happen to those who follow…