Book review: How Companies Can Keep Trim, by David Maister

David Maister is probably the world's foremost expert on the management of professional services firms. Although it would be overstating the case to claim that every lawyer and accountant takes his words as gospel, it is certainly true that his previous books, Managing the Professional Services Firm and True Professionalism, are together regarded as something of a bible in the field.

Indeed, while most management writers have concentrated on advising corporates, Maister, a transplanted Brit now living and working in Boston, has struck out for pastures of his own. This has turned out to be quite a smart strategy since the field he has chosen has grown rapidly in recent years, as professional services firms have grown in size and influence.

There are still people working in some of the world's largest law firms, for instance, who can remember the days when all the partners could fit in the same room for dinner. Now, they would be hard-pressed to know the names of all their partners.

This increase in size has been accompanied by growing complexity and hence the need for much more management than was once the case. What Maister recognised early on was that the special nature of the people concerned – they tend to think of themselves in terms of their profession first and then in terms of the organisation to which they belong – meant that the standard management approaches adopted by corporates would not work. In particular, Maister urges professional services firms to stay true to the values held by the individuals in them.

Although he has become very successful, Maister has never taken himself too seriously. Anybody who knows him will realise that the latter part of the title of his latest book is at least in part a reference to himself.

As ever with him, there is a serious point behind the apparent frivolity. And, although the book is ostensibly targeted at those in professional services firms, its messages hold true for any type of business organisation where the founder's original vision can very easily be lost sight of.

The key point is that just as individuals know that to be more healthy they should lose weight, give up smoking and do more exercise, so businesses realise that they need to build relationships with clients or customers, act like team players and build motivating careers for their workforces. He says: "We know what to do, we know why we should do it and we know how to do it. Yet most businesses and individuals don't do what's good for them." The reason is simple: in both cases you have to go through too much pain to get to the desired result. It is easier to give up. It is only when a shock comes – in Maister's case, a visit to the hospital – that they change their ways.

His prescription is to realise that implementing a successful business strategy is about a permanent and total change in lifestyle. To achieve this, the strategy must be constantly monitored and the leadership has to be seen to be serious about the strategy, while employees at all levels must be fully engaged. In particular, the strategy needs to be broken down into achievable steps. It is much more effective to urge a fat smoker to lose a pound a day than to tell them they must lose 50 pounds.

"If we are prepared to rethink how we view strategy and business life, then people can achieve things they never thought possible," he says hopefully. "If I can become a fitter, non-smoking exerciser, there's truly no limit!"

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Recruitment Genius: Software Development Manager

£40000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Ashdown Group: Product Manager - (Product Marketing, Financial Services)

£30000 - £35000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager - Marke...

Recruitment Genius: Compliance Assistant

£13000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Pension Specialist was established ...

Ashdown Group: Market Research Executive

£23000 - £26000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Market Research Executive...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee