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What Is This Service

Our Leadership Council Formation service empowers already-successful mid-size service firms to keep growing and even accelerate the pace of growth. For more than 20 years now, The Shattuck Group has coached upwards of 70 mid-sized service firms, those with 25-100 staff and 10-50 million in revenue. We’ve borne witness to what happens when Leadership Councils make great decisions and lead with clarity. Leadership is the difference between an organization that thrives and grows versus an organization that stagnates and withers. In any economy, any industry and any circumstance, leaders make all the difference.

This service involves the formation, institution and ongoing operations of a formal Leadership Council. Most of the mid-size service firms we’ve served have some type of leadership team, but rarely a formal council. What’s the difference? In a word—responsibility. A leadership team is usually made up of department heads who advise stakeholders on key issues and report about their department’s activities. In most instances, members of a leadership team do not have formal training and experience in leadership. They are also usually not held accountable for business outcomes. That responsibility falls to stakeholders.

Our Leadership Council Formation service presents stakeholders with an alternative model of leadership that they may not have considered. This does not, in any way, reduce decision-rights, authority or the influence of stakeholders. Instead, this service enhances the ability of stakeholders to do what they do best and what they alone can do. It frees stakeholders to focus on their most important priorities. Just to be clear, a stakeholder is someone who has a stake in a professional service firm. Sometimes stakeholders are partial or full business owners. Other times they are the person primarily responsible for business outcomes—usually a C-Suite executive.

In the vast majority of mid-sized service firms we’ve coached, there have only been one, or at most two, stakeholders. See our Principal Coaching service for details on how we work with these people. Our experience has been that stakeholders are nearly always overwhelmed with responsibilities, tasks and competing priorities. This reduces their quality of life and at some point, constricts the growth of the firm. Our Leadership Council formation unleashes growth potential by raising up a team of leaders who, along with the stakeholder, take responsibility for business outcomes. That is the fundamental difference between leadership teams and leadership councils—responsibility.




Why Mid-Size Service Firms Need A Formal Leadership Council

There are several reasons service firms need a formal leadership council:

  • Too many decisions need to get made. For any mid-size service firm to grow, thousands of decisions need to be made. It is virtually impossible, and certainly impractical, for stakeholders alone to make all of those decisions.
  • Complex situations and decisions require input. Most mid-size service firms will face complex situations where big decisions need to be made. Usually these game-changing decisions produce permanent changes. They’re tipping points. Once the decision is made, there’s no going back. Given the stakes, it’s important to have an already-constituted body of trusted people who can offer perspectives from multiple vantage points. This increases confidence in the decision being made and helps prevent blind spots that might yield undesirable consequences.
  • Communication burdens increase as companies grow. Once a service firm has 30 or more people, the burden of communicating with everyone can become nearly a full-time job. The hub-and-spoke model of communication usually results in people further down the chain of command hearing very different messages than the stakeholder tried to deliver.
  • Information silos increase as service firms grow. As soon as service organizations start to formalize departments, something that is essential for growth, silos begin to form. If these silos grow, tribalism and infighting can take over and erode productivity and teamwork.
  • Morale and behavioral problems are identified way too late. In numerous firms where we’ve established leadership councils, this is the number one reason for doing so. When behavioral and attitudinal problems are allowed to fester, the result is an organization in chaos. It’s very confusing for employees who spend more time talking at the water cooler about the latest gossip than getting work done.
  • Organizational health is a team sport. It is virtually impossible for one or two stakeholders to maintain organizational health entirely on their own. Maintaining a flat hierarchy, preventing political infighting, retaining key staff and keeping morale high—all of this requires teamwork.
  • Principals needs partners. In every service firm we’ve served for the past 20 years, we see one of two situations—principals consistently on the edge of burnout because they’re so overtasked or principals who are thriving because they have trusted partners.
What does a Leadership Council actually do?

Now that we’ve established why mid-size service firms need a formal leadership council, let’s address what the council actually does.

  • Lead by being a representative of the firm. Council members may or may not be department heads. Their mission for being on the council is to solve pressing business problems, not to be an advocate for their department or pet projects. Council members lead the firm, with the support of stakeholders. Council members also think like owners when in session and represent the interests of the business when communicating with employees.
  • Define the mission and the values of the firm. One of the most important roles of the council is to define the mission—why the organization exists in the first place and the values—how the organization actually behaves. These two activities create clarity for everyone in the firm.
  • Make decisions both individually and collectively. Council members have a vote. They serve as advisors and purveyors of perspective on complex situations. But they also, when operating as we advise, vote. This is the primary way they become responsible for business outcomes. This does not mean that their vote overrides the vote of stakeholders.
  • Respect the decision-rights of stakeholders. While council members vote, this does not mean that their vote will always determine the course of the business. It’s the stakeholder’s butt on the line for every decision that’s made in the business. In some instances, a stakeholder may override the decisions of all council members, even after they have voted. An important part of getting the balance of power right between the council and stakeholders is to define when and under which circumstances a stakeholder may, in fact, assert decision rights.
  • Communicate with Free-Flowing Information as the model. As important topics arise and as business decisions are made, council members share information freely with everyone in the company. We advocate for a Free-Flowing Information model, wherein council members collectively tell everyone in the firm, usually within 24 hours or fewer, about every major decision that has been made. Transparency increases trust and decreases uncertainty among staff, allowing them to focus on their work.
  • Identify problematic behavior and attitudes and bring them to the council. Council members keep their ear to the ground, listening for problems within the organization. In most instances, these problems stem from behavior, statements and attitudes that could hurt the firm if they are not addressed. Council members are proactive in bringing these situations to the council so they can be fully addressed and resolved, quickly.
  • Break down silos by listening to all quarters of the firm. One of the most important responsibilities of council members is to listen. At The Shattuck Group, we believe in the circle of 7 concept. This concept holds that most people cannot have a vital relationship at work with more than 7-10 people. Council members choose the 7 or so people inside the company that they’ll communicate with regularly. We recommend that at least 3 of these people are outside the department of the council member. This model empowers council members to use Free Flowing Information to communicate down and to use listening skills to communicate up to the council what they’re hearing in their circle of 7.
  • Stimulate the organizational health of the firm. The actions, attitudes and statements of council members produce organizational health. This reduces politics, creates clarity about the mission, values and goals and reduces the anxiety of staff.
  • Take responsibility for business outcomes. Because council members have a vote, they also bear responsibility for the outcomes of the business.
Who Needs This Service?

Professional service firms that:

  • Have stakeholders who are overwhelmed with responsibilities, decisions and the burdens of communication.
  • Have experienced a growth plateau, where they cannot seem to break through to their next level.
  • Want to be organizationally healthy and really enjoy their work.
  • Recognize that their current approach to leadership needs an upgrade.

To learn more about how a Council is formed and how it actually operates, please click on Our Approach.