Professional Services Talent – The Talent Pyramid

Professional Services (PS) organizations often do not leverage common functional or organizational structure to accomplish their mission. This means that direct-line reporting relationships between individual contributors and managers typically do not exist, instead it is a matrixed project-based structure. For embedding PS teams, this is different than most other groups within the organization and, therefore, needs to be better understood to allow PS to employ best practices. The difference between true success of a PS business is the use of proven best practices. Unfortunately, many of these are counterintuitive to the rest of the organization.
PS team members work in a 100% project environment – they work for different managers as projects are formed and completed. Also, as mentioned in a prior blog, this work usually requires working intimately with client personnel. Furthermore, it is inefficient and ineffective to attempt to keep project teams consistent across different engagements (creating a semi-permanent team). The fast pace and intense nature of PS means that teams do not have the time to go through storming and norming for each new project.
Therefore, PS requires a unique structures and systems to ensure success. In some ways, it can be compared to a baseball team – each player must know what to do in each situation. Although, it is inherently more complex because, unlike in baseball, a PS team member might play different roles in different projects (e.g., project lead, SME, project contributor). There are several structures that support this different business model, including (but not limited to): extensive professional development and training, talent pyramid, feedback loops, up-or-out model, etc.
In this blog, we want to discuss the Talent Pyramid and how it supports the PS organization. The Talent Pyramid solves several issues for the PS organization.
1. Forces the appropriate leverage and final management for the business. For example, ensuring the right mix of expensive versus inexpensive resources on a project. This mix ensures that the best work is done in the most effective, but profitable, manner.
2. Provides clear career pathing and what is expected at each level. Clarity on expectations for each level and the necessary skills to move up within the organization typically motivates and enables staff members.
3. Supports the up-or-out model for the business. Ideally, each year consultants are either promoted, given a year to improve, or let go based on stagnant or diminishing performance. For the purposes of this discussion assume there are 2 -3 minor levels within the major levels of the Pyramid (pictured below). This ensures that appropriate movement occurs between levels and no movement forces the tough decisions to be made. That being said, it is ultimately the responsibility of the PS organization to enable and develop staff and, in cases where movement is not possible, support and facilitate team members finding new roles inside or outside the organization.
4. Reinforces appropriate coaching (and training) for consultants as they progress. The ability to coach staff is its own skillset needed by leaders to progress up the ladder as well.

Unfortunately, we often see PS organizations that are structured more like a diamond (see image below), instead of pyramid, with bloating in the center and shrinkage at the bottom. This structure causes several issues:

  • Leverage is non-existent and, therefore, new talent is not being properly developed and all layers are at risk of burnout.
  • The middle layer is forced to working on assignments below their skill level, instead of focusing on building skills to move up in the organization.
  • Experts become too important and can hold PS group hostage.
  • Projects are not organized properly to drive outcomes and profitability.
  • Instead of PS behaviors being reinforced, heroism is honored.

Although the structures and systems of Professional Services (particularly the Talent Pyramid) are unique to the rest of the organization, it is imperative that PS obey the best practices for its business.  Otherwise, it can not grow in a predicable manner and fulfill its broader role for the company.  We will address other key structures and tools that are needed for PS in future Blogs.


Written by: Dean McMann

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About the Author: Dean McMann is a Founding Partner at McMann & Ransford with 35+ years of experience in consulting and professional services.  He is a sought-after expert and speaker on topics of: B2B differentiation, professional services best practices, and overcoming commoditization.  In addition to his extensive experience in the Professional Services space, Dean also serves on the board of various non-profit organizations.

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