Managing a Professional Services Firm by David Maister is a consulting classic. For those interested in the economics of partnerships and want to know how managing partners think of their business model, you have to read this book. It is a collection of articles that Maister wrote over 10 years, but they are timeless truths when it comes to the business of managing smart people who deliver services to clients. Maister was a Harvard Business School professor who left (who leaves HBS?), to teach law and consulting firms how to be successful. Basically, he teaches super smart people how to run their businesses. (affiliate link)
Finders, Minders, and Grinders. Maister mentions this in the first chapter, and it rings true for all consulting, audit, and law firms. There are three archetypal roles that roughly line up with these job titles in the respective industries. The shape of the pyramid shows both the number of people at each level; many grinders, fewer minders, and even fewer finders. It also implies the relative hierarchy in terms of respect, experience, compensation.
Finders. These are the ones at the top of the pyramid who find the business. They are usually equity partners. They are owners in the business, and the success of the firm = the personal financial success. They are in-it-to-win-it.
They hunt for a living. They spend 80%+ of their time on business development and account management. Their job is not project delivery, their job is to find work that others will deliver on. They are in sales.
Minders. In consulting world, these are the senior managers, engagement managers, and managers. They have relevant experience and spend their days working with clients and keeping their teams busy and on track. They project manage others and keep the wheels of the projects running.
They work for the goal of becoming partner. They seek to please, and frankly, hold the place together. There is lots of leverage here because they coach and correct many young people who, in the end, are the future talent pipeline of the firm.
Grinders. These are the bright young things coming out of top universities 21-25 years old, who are super impressionable, eager to please, and wicked smart. They are putting in the long hours figuring out how to do research, run queries on MS Access, and crunch data until it has been pulverized into sand.
Junior resources learn an enormous amount on the job. One manager said, “you can actually see them getting smarter”. By the time they have been on a half dozen projects, they are usually client-ready and fairly self-sufficient. After a few short years in a top consulting firm, their market value likely increases 20-30%.
For any project, you need all three roles. They are not mutually exclusive by any means. Any one on the project team can help “find” repeat business at the client site. Likewise, “minders” often step in an do the heavy lifting work too. That said, these are the archetypes and the typical roles that firms hire into, and you see on projects.
Leverage matters. There is a ratio of between the 3 groups that determines the shape of the pyramid. A tall pyramid implies a lower leverage ratio where there is more time required of the partners and veterans to actually deliver the work. A flatter pyramid implies higher leverage with a larger base of analysts, consultants and associates. Neither is good or bad, it is merely different types of work.
If you really care about how your consulting firm or law firm operates, think about the staffing model and what that means for client service, profitability, and satisfaction. There is a lot more to say on this topic – Maister wrote a 300 page book on it – but it’s 7:15am. Time to leave the hotel and go to the client site to mind and find.