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The top 5 challenges Professional Service Associates are facing today and what leaders should do

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Published on: May 2020

Written by: Philios Andreou

The COVID-19 pandemic has created unprecedented challenges for everyone, but as advisors to organizations undergoing tremendous change, professional services firms are being uniquely impacted by the crisis. Through managing existing relationships and projects, consultants have a front row seat watching their clients’ businesses transform – priorities are constantly shifting, decision making teams are changing and new business models are emerging. At the same time, the firm’s own business models are under pressure to evolve. Working in this new reality isn’t easy, and leaders need to take action to help their consultants thrive. There are five major challenges consultants need to overcome – here’s how you as a leader can help.

 

Challenge 1:

 

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Confusion and Uncertainty: Consultants are feeling unsure of how to deal with clients and projects, how they can keep adding value, how long the crisis will last, and what the long-term impact will be on their clients. They are also uncertain about the firm’s future. Will the principles of the past still hold as the services, delivery mechanisms, and success measures are all shifting? This confusion and uncertainty will reduce consultants’ productivity by clouding their thinking and slowing decision making.

Leader’s call to action:
Plan for the business whilst focusing on the team: One of the first things you need to do as a leader is come up with a business plan that has clear indicators of success – this will give each person on your team a sense of control, focus, and empowerment. Make sure the indicators are adapted to the current environment, and that it is obvious to the entire team how they can achieve results. Each person’s priorities and actions should be fully transparent. In addition, highlight the team’s collective power as a driving force. Make sure to focus on team success (using team objectives) so that your people shift their perspective from the individual to the team. Having a destination and clear measures of success creates a more positive environment, a stronger team, and provides a counter voice to negative self-talk.

Challenge 2:

Magnification: One effect of the crisis is heightened emotions that are more sensitive to triggers. As emails from colleagues, leaders or clients come in or changes in ways of working are established, it is as if everything is happening under a magnifying glass. The implications of the smallest change given the circumstances can feel huge for a consultant. Moments of crisis also increase the tendency to read more into the negative aspects of any situation. As such, consultants will develop a mindset of always preparing for the worst, which impacts their overall wellbeing, productivity and teamwork.

Leader’s call to action:
Constantly provide Perspective: Assuming your team will view all changes in a negative light, help them look at the situations and events through a more objective lens and challenge their reactions. Doing so in a calm and objective manner will also demonstrate that things are under control. In addition, authentically focusing on the positive aspects of the change or some uplifting news will help balance out the negative thoughts and maintain productivity.

Challenge 3:

Lower confidence: As client demand for current projects decreases and new projects aren’t being funded, consultants will start to doubt their abilities. They will feel uncertain about the value they bring to clients and the firm. They will question their judgement, actions and ultimately if they are fit for the job. These doubts reduce confidence, which will impact consultants’ work and potentially create a negative spiral where these concerns become reality.

Leader’s call to action:
Double down on Recognition: When consultants start having doubts as to their performance and worth, leaders need to show empathy and provide recognition. Great leaders demonstrate an understanding of the situation and reward the right behaviors and actions. While the bottom line is likely not to be as expected, you should make sure to reward smaller successes along the way. Research shows that focusing on gaps often feeds negative spiraling while rewarding progress helps everyone to stay the path.

Challenge 4:

Frustration and lack of patience: Whilst traditional work slows down and client responses are delayed, paradoxically the number of internal meetings increases. This dramatically changes the way work gets done and exponentially increases the need for proactive relationship management as well as investing time to upskill and learn the new ways of working. While the amount of work is way higher, the outcomes are not comparable. This effort to results ratio can fuel consultants’ feelings of frustration. Consultants will start to look at this paradox and convince themselves that this is a sign of errant strategy or actions. They will lose patience and therefore decrease the discretionary effort they put into their work.

Leader’s call to action:
Provide Reassurance and wisdom: Leaders need to help their people to understand that patience is a key success factor amidst change. While day-to-day frustrations are possible, perhaps even likely, your people will need to be reminded that dealing with frustration can be part of the job and that the particular frustrating aspects of today’s circumstances will not exist in the future. Leaders also need to be honest about their mistakes and any changes to the plan. It is critical for leaders to role model the behaviors they want their consultants to emulate and demonstrate that they themselves are patient and are listening whilst ready to take decisive action when necessary.

Challenge 5:

Exhaustion: In a crisis, consultants are under high amounts of stress and often lose sleep. They lose their ability to refresh and recharge the mind and body. Ultimately, exhaustion clouds their thinking and weakens their immune systems – something that is critical to avoid during these times.

Leader’s call to action:
Energize by providing inspiration: Leaders need to provide their consultants with inspiration. Celebrating achievements, developing the right culture, and role modeling self-care are the best ways to boost the team’s energy. In moments of crisis it is too tempting for leaders to work themselves to exhaustion. While done with the best intentions, you are demonstrating to consultants that this is the expected behavior, which will ultimately result in reduced productivity. To keep consultants inspired and engaged, model the behavior you want them to embody in your daily actions, rather than organizing lots of all-hands meetings that fill up people’s calendars.

Maintaining a completely positive mindset through crisis is impossible, however, leaders in professional service firms must focus on helping their teams decrease the moments of negativity, lower confidence and frustration. Doing so requires a strong focus on empathy and paving a vision for the success forward. As stated by Napoleon, “A leader is a dealer in hope.”

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