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From Where We Sit

People as a strategy

Professional service firms, as unique organizations, cater to the needs of companies across various industries through vending time, knowledge and expertise of skilled individuals. With talent as the core of our business, it comes as no surprise when the business strategy starts to shift from being R.O.I-centric to being people-centric. We call it the “People Strategy”.

People, as the true assets and building blocks of both the business and the organization, have become the strategy. This results in the evolution and reshaping of perceptions on management and development of manpower. The very nature and meaning of leadership have progressed from traditional technical-led management platforms to people or team-based systems.

As it has been by practice, staff members are recognized, developed, promoted and rewarded based purely on technical and competency skills. As they progress in their careers, the focus and criteria of advancement still circulate on skills improvement rather than on managerial and administrative skills; especially people management, which is usually looked upon as a job or as a process not as a function or an enabler of the organization. This has been true for most, if not all, professional service firms; and even those at the higher echelons have the same mindset. So how do we keep our business people-centered yet at the same time economic-relevant?

While technical skills are very critical and important criteria of all professional firms, people management has also gained an equal traction of importance as validated through numerous literatures on its effect on productivity and work output. Deliberately allocating investments to establish a robust people management structure tailored to influence and inspire consequently leads to a dynamic workforce.

People managers are the critical link in bridging gaps and facilitating sustained motivation, engagement, and loyalty of staff towards the firm. The key to sustainability is to institutionalize people management practices that combine both technical and people management proficiency, paving the way for a professional autonomy while committed to the organization’s goals. This is the new bottom line.

Institutionalizing people management should not be taken in the context of rigid financial projections on returns in its conventional definition. Having a motivated labor force is not reduced to satisfying salaries and benefits. People Management is about nurturing potentials within the organization, strengthening the leadership pool, and overcoming a multitude of business-related issues. It is being able to succeed despite the challenges of balancing these different polarities particular to professional services firms:

Individualism vs. collaboration

Technical (hard) skills vs. people (soft) skills

Breadth and innovation of services vs. professional specialism and depth of insight

Leading from the front vs directing from the back

Agile services delivery vs strict documentation.

Managing these polarities is no easy task – as simply doing less of one at the expense of the other always gives rise to a new set of problems. People management, therefore, has an overarching purpose: to enable and devise an appropriate and balanced response to these challenges within the firm.

Taking ownership and accountability as a People Manager leads to a chain of sustained business outcomes. Its tenet and wisdom revolve around a belief that one ascertains career growth parallel to personal development. This, in turn, furthers an employee’s unique strength and talent that redefine how the job is actually done – yielding superior performance outcomes.

People managers have a genuine and sincere concern for the welfare of the staff. They keep the employees’ best interest at heart, embrace all their differences and diversity, exercise management transparency, commit continuous learning opportunities, and build dialogue-oriented relationships. They are concerned about how is everyone doing. This is demonstrated by the attention given not just to the firm’s heavy-hitters, but to the average performers as well. To people managers, this is more than a role; this is an advocacy to work tirelessly in building opportunities and strengthening confidence to deliver breakthrough performance. To be responsible for another is never a burden. Stewardship is not a lost art.

As the culture is established that influences one to listen and empathize, the firm starts generating more viable returns. An organization where good leadership and people management are valued (as much as technical expertise) – model the behaviors the firm wants to foster in its people. People managers, who bear genuine interest for the development of their people, usually lead a synergized and empowered workforce.

Lastly, any investment that a firm makes in developing its managers – especially its future leaders – is ultimately for the long-term benefit of the whole organization. This is a thrust beyond costs and payout. So take an interest in people management. See what it does for your organization. See where it leads you.


Rhia Dee is a director with People and Culture Group of P&A Grant Thornton, a leaduing audit, tax, advisory, and outsourcing firm in the Philippines, with 21 partners and over 700 staff members.

As published in Manila Times dated 14 September 2016