Know the players.

Who sets the strategy within your firm? Get to know them.  Be proactive, but authentic — just like networking for business, network internally.  This includes within your own marketing and business development department as well as across departments: finance, HR, and information technology, as well as your practice chairs and executive leadership.  Walk the floor, pick up the phone.  Building rapport helps to foster trust.  Find your mentors and your sponsors.  They will provide insight into the aspects of their business and their perspectives and they will be your advocates for projects, advancement, and a seat at the table.

Debrief and adapt.

“This is the way we have always done things,” should never be in anyone’s vocabulary. The market evolves, so does our business and our clients’ businesses.  We have to evolve, too.  A good way to spark new ideas is to always debrief your projects — alone and with your team.  Look at the areas that were successful, and those that were not.  Pivot, adapt, evolve.  Leverage your experiences to change your models or adopt new best practices based on the market and client needs.  Change is good, so embrace it.

Be clear and step out of your comfort zone.

To be a leader with a seat at the table, you need to have thick skin and be clear in your own communications.  It is not always easy to disagree or provide an alternate opinion, but, as a hired professional, your independent voice has value, so take stock in it, step out of your comfort zone and follow your instincts.  Partners want to know they have been heard, and will respect you if you make it clear you have heard their point(s) and then offer another idea or solution.  They also need to ensure buy-in with their own partners.  Help them achieve this by providing ways to get their colleagues engaged and by delivering clear messaging around the firm’s strategy and subsequent programs.

Use the goals or challenges of the client to innovate.

Leaders are always thinking about client needs — internally and externally.  This means you need to fully understand your firm’s and the partners’ strengths, weaknesses and opportunities.  What needs are not being met?

You also need to understand external client needs as much as your partners do. I recently helped launch the Managing Partner Institute, a leadership and management development program put on by the Ackert Advisory, and one of my best takeaways from our summit’s keynote is to look at other professional services industries for best practices.  Other companies have excellent examples of leveraging their teams at every level to develop strategy and enhance business relationships.

Director of customer engagement and marketing of a major cloud computing company, Mai Tran Green puts a fine point on it, “Your customers are your number one asset.  Always think ‘customer first’ — listen to them —  and they will tell you want they want.  Seek ways to solve their challenges and problems; doing this cultivates innovation within your company and your company will thrive in the future.”  Her team hosts customer and prospect focus groups to find out what’s working and what’s not.  This is one example of how they gather data and find new, creative ideas on what would pique their client’s interest, which ultimately drives strategy within the company.

“Think outside the box” is a phrase we, as marketers, toss around all the time; instead, think how you can “tap into your client’s circle” in order to find new ways to be resourceful and innovative.

Kim StuartKim Stuart, the founder and president of Key Group, is a strategic advisor for law firms, professional services firms, non-profit organizations and high-level business executives.  She also serves as senior advisor and faculty for the Ackert Advisory.  She can be reached at

Published in LMA’s Strategies+ June 2016

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