his chapter is aimed at the person I call the ringmaster. This
term sounds both more digniﬁed and more promising as a
way of describing the leader of a professional service ﬁrm
than the “cat herder” we hear so much about.
The ringmaster runs the show and keeps the tigers up on their
stools. The tigers present both opportunities and risks, which help
keep the ringmaster’s job challenging and interesting. There would
be no show without the tigers, so the ringmaster has to make sure
that they are happy enough to perform—and at the same time,
hungry enough to pay attention.
In other words, compensation is key—and the analogy certainly
holds in the realm of professional services. If collaboration is a goal,
as I’ve argued it should be, then the ﬁrm’s compensation system has
to advance that goal. But as any experienced leader knows, moti-
vating the stars—and everyone else who’s critical to keeping the
show going—takes far more than money.
Let’s begin with a central premise of several earlier chapters:
that serving clients with integrated, cross-practice offerings
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typically leads to a stable of “stickier” and more lucrative clients.
Yet when we look around, some partners are obviously doing far
more of this collaboration than others. This disparity begs an obvi-
ous question: Is one partner’s willingness to bear the costs and
risks of collaborating related to her ﬁrm’s supportive compensation
system? Conversely, is another professional’s temptation to hoard
work driven by an unsupportive compensation system? Is there a
straight-line link between levels of collaboration within a given
ﬁrm and its compensation system?
The answer to this last question is not quite.
Granted, a ﬁrm’s compensation system plays a large part in
shaping partners’ behavior, and probably explains why some
ﬁrms are, on average, more collaborative than others.
doesn’t account for the difference in collaboration between part-
ners in the same ﬁrm, where they’re all (presumably) operating
under the same compensation system. And the confusing truth
is that every ﬁrm has a wide range of collaborative proﬁles, in
terms of both the rainmakers who do and don’t refer work to
others, and the partners who are or aren’t on the receiving end
of those referrals.
Consider ﬁgure 6-1. It illustrates the experience of one typical
ﬁrm, in which a third of the people referred work to other partners
fewer than ten times during the course of my study (over several
Number of projects referred to/received from
other partners within a three-year time frame
Proportion of partners
Extent and distribution of partners’ work referrals
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