Scaling with Soul: How to Expand Your Firm without Diluting Its Essence

As professional services firms grow and increase consistency and efficiency, they struggle to maintain the agility and creativity that enabled their success.

2 Minute Read

Scaling a professional services firm isn’t as simple as hiring more people to crank out more work – it demands preserving the essence of what made the firm successful (creativity, personalized touch, etc.). But as a firm grows, these qualities can become overshadowed by necessary processes aimed at consistent quality and efficient delivery.

This issue isn’t unique to professional services, and we can look to leading players in other industries as examples of maintaining your “secret sauce” as you grow. The key is to take a holistic view of all your policies to ensure they reinforce each other to provide flexibility within a structured framework. Instead, what happens far too often is the “python of process” squeezes harder anytime something goes wrong, and rigid processes contradict core values such as innovation and personal service, leading to confusion or worse – skepticism that the firm’s core values have any meaning.

Netflix stands as a paragon in this arena, and this article invites professional services firms to draw inspiration from the media giant’s playbook, learning how to weave together policies that reinforce one another. As we dissect Netflix’s strategy, we pinpoint the synergy between lean policies and high-performance teams, and the symbiotic relationship between autonomy and a culture of feedback, offering an example of how to create a practical framework to expand without losing your core identity:

1. Embracing Lean Policies.

Netflix’s lean policies, such as their vacation, expense, and travel policies, are instrumental in maintaining agility and creativity. Instead of burdening employees with an extensive set of rules, Netflix trusts its talent to act responsibly and make informed decisions. This freedom enables employees to focus on their work, unleashing their creativity and entrepreneurial spirit.

Example: Netflix’s vacation policy is a prime illustration of their lean approach. Rather than enforcing specific vacation limits, the company grants employees the autonomy to take time off as needed, promoting work-life integration. By eliminating the bureaucracy surrounding vacation requests, employees are encouraged to prioritize their well-being and recharge, leading to increased creativity and productivity.

2. Hiring and Retaining Only High Performers.

A cornerstone of Netflix’s success lies in its relentless commitment to hiring and retaining only high performers. The company believes that exceptional colleagues are the most valuable “perk” an organization can offer. By building a team of top talent, Netflix ensures that they have the right people in place to maintain agility and drive creativity, and who make the right decisions given their lack of prescriptive rule-making. “Dream teams are not right for everyone. Some people prefer job security, and choose to work at companies that are more focused on stability and seniority, and less rigorous about performance management.”

Example: Netflix’s rigorous hiring process focuses on selecting candidates who not only possess the necessary skills and expertise but also align with the company’s culture and values. They prioritize finding brilliant fits rather than settling for adequate ones. Similarly, Netflix isn’t afraid to part ways with individuals whose skills no longer match the requirements of their roles and the company asks management to give a severance package to anyone they would not fight hard to keep if that same person were to give notice, ensuring that the organization maintains a high-performing workforce.

3. Encouraging Autonomy and Accountability.

Netflix’s emphasis on autonomy and accountability plays a vital role in preserving agility and creativity. They empower their employees to make independent decisions, take calculated risks, and learn from their experiences. This approach fosters a sense of ownership, innovation, and adaptability throughout the organization.

Example: Netflix provides a work environment where employees are trusted to act in the best interest of the company. Rather than micromanaging, leaders at Netflix offer guidance and support, allowing employees to navigate challenges and find creative solutions. This autonomy fosters a culture of ownership, where individuals are accountable for their actions and decisions.

4. Embrace a Feedback-First Mindset.

Encouraging open and honest feedback is essential for creating an environment that values learning, growth, and continuous improvement. Create platforms or channels where employees can share their thoughts, ideas, and concerns without fear of judgment or negative consequences, and lead by example by ensuring senior leaders demonstrate openness to feedback, actively seek input from employees, and respond constructively.

Example: At Netflix, they embrace a culture of “radical honesty” and vigorous debate. They create opportunities for employees to engage in open discussions and provide feedback without fear of retribution. For instance, they conduct staged debates between executives, organize non-anonymized feedback days, and practice the “stop, start, continue” feedback mechanism in senior management meetings to avoid slipping into a habit of only talking about the positive. By encouraging employees at all levels to express their opinions freely and openly, Netflix prepares the organization for change and also ensures that employees with a high level of autonomy are given feedback that improves their projects and programs.

Netflix provides us with an example of how to scale without getting lost in the sea of “sameness” or compromising on the qualities that define your brand by creating interdependent strategies instead of one-off policies that react to specific pain points. Lean policies provide the framework within which high performers can excel, fostering an environment where autonomy and accountability are not just encouraged but expected. Meanwhile, a feedback-first mindset ensures that this autonomy does not lead to dissonance but remains in harmony with the company's goals and culture. This creates a cycle where lean policies empower high performers, and the autonomy and accountability they are given, in turn, nurture a culture where feedback from others drives continuous improvement and innovation.

At Maior, we recognize that each team has its own rhythm and requirements for success. We specialize in crafting processes that fit snugly with your team’s distinctive needs, ensuring that policies aren’t just a directive but a tool for empowerment. By doing so, we help firms like yours foster a dynamic, agile environment where creativity thrives and team strengths are amplified for client satisfaction as you grow.

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