Harvard Business School

If God wanted to create a perfect punishment for a high achiever, then He would have that person manage a professional service firm,” says Professor John Gabarro of the Harvard Business School.
Gabarro is on the faculty of the Leading Professional Service Firms program, an intensive, one-week executive education program taught twice a year at the Harvard Business School. Designed for leaders of professional service firms, the program focuses on management and marketing issues unique to these firms. Namely, the delicate balancing act of ensuring client satisfaction while also leading the firm’s talent.
The program provides a forum for participants from around the world to apply the concepts and real case studies presented in the classroom to their own professional lives. Leading Professional Service Firms is intended for leaders of large and midsize organizations who are engaged in a wide range of professional services. These include: consulting, legal, accounting, architecture and engineering, marketing and advertising, venture capital, investment banking, IT services, computer software development, and technology systems integration.
“What separates professional service firms from other businesses is that the employees are their most important assets,” says professor Jay Lorsch, faculty chair of the program. “Yet professionals in any field — independent-minded, creative individuals — can be difficult to manage.”
Lorsch uses an old analogy that likens managing professionals to herding cats. He says while it’s a funny image, it also touches the underlying anxiety some firm leaders express about managing and maximizing human resources.
“When their people get on the elevator at night, there’s no guarantee they’ll be back the next day,” says Lorsch. “More than in any other industry, professional service firms must create an environment in which employees are constantly motivated and can effectively balance their commitment to the firm and to the client, as well as to themselves.”
The Leading Professional Service Firm program is appropriate for all individuals who manage significant numbers of professionals and are responsible for delivering professional services. While specific titles vary depending on a firm’s business and size, typical participants include:
Executive vice presidents;
Partners and principals;
Managing directors;
Office managers; and
Practice leaders.
“All of these people have very different backgrounds and skills — clearly lawyers are not like software developers — but they have a lot in common too,” says Lorsch. “Fundamentally, professional service firm leaders grapple with the same kinds of management issues. It’s reassuring for managers to know that their peers face similar sets of challenges.”
The work of professional service firms depends exclusively on the talent and intelligence of the people delivering it. Good firms hire the absolute best people and develop them, motivate them, and build careers in which they’ll stay committed to the profession and the firm for a long period of time. They develop organizational practices that motivate these outstanding people to serve clients well. Getting this right is what we mean by alignment.
Leading Professional Service Firms concentrates on this concept of alignment — the issues firm leaders need to resolve in order to create strong links between employees and the kinds of things that motivate them, the firm’s strategy and the way the firm is organized to deliver the strategy.
The faculty are drawn from Harvard Business School’s Organizational Behavior and Service Management groups and have expertise researching professional service industries, providing consulting services to major firms, and in some cases, heading firms themselves. The team includes Lorsch; Gabarro, an expert on human resources management; Tom DeLong, who studies strategy, organizational change, and globalization in professional service firms, and served as chief development officer of Morgan Stanley Group Inc.; and Ashish Nanda, who researches management issues and strategic alliances among professional service organizations, and formerly served as an executive with the Tata group of companies in India.
Candidates can submit an application online (www.exed.hbs.edu/programs/lpsf) or download an application online and mail or fax the form in. Applications are requested at least six weeks before the program start date. The admissions committee begins reviewing applications approximately three to four months prior, and qualified candidates are admitted on a rolling, space-available basis. Programs often fill to capacity, so early application is recommended.
Enrollment is limited to a select, qualified group of individuals in large and midsize firms who are in leadership positions, but sometimes professionals from small firms are accepted. Admission is selective and based on professional achievement and organizational responsibility. The $8,200 program fee covers tuition, books, case materials, accommodations and most meals.