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Advisory work

Laura works with senior leaders and partners in professional organizations around the world to identify, understand, and address significant organizational challenges, to stimulate fresh thinking, and to inspire change.

Working with Professor Laura Empson

Synchronising research and practice

As any leader of a professional organization knows, the biggest challenge is not working out what to do but how to persuade your colleagues to do it. My decades of research and my extensive experience advising professional organizations come together to provide a uniquely valuable skill set.

As an academic I am able to draw upon my own rigorous research, together with knowledge of leading edge management theory more generally, to get below the surface of professional organizations, to challenge conventional thinking, and to analyse and diagnose organizational problems with a unique degree of insight. As an advisor I am able to develop these insights into highly practical recommendations.

In my experience, when professionals are resistant to change, emotional anxieties often lie behind their intellectual arguments. My academic expertise gives me considerable credibility and authority with professionals, enabling me to set their concerns in the context of my research more generally and add weight to my proposals. In this way I work closely with leadership to help bring about challenging and far-reaching change.

What?

Laura draws upon almost 30 years of academic research and consulting to challenge assumptions, encourage fresh thinking, and resolve her clients’ most challenging issues.

How?

Laura delivers a combination of discrete advisory projects, facilitated leadership offsites, and longer-term change management interventions.

Who?

Laura works with leaders of the world’s most prestigious and successful professional organizations, as well as founders of ambitious professional organizations eager to grow.

Why?

Leaders of professional organizations approach Laura for a variety of reasons.
See below and expand for details of case studies.


Governance review

Example: In advising on governance redesign I help leaders build thriving organizations by steering a careful path between encouraging autonomy and exercising control. In my experience, as organizations grow there is often a need to improve the efficiency of decision-making processes.  However, overt attempts to centralise power through redesigning governance arrangements can provoke a backlash among professionals. Alternatively, where power is too centralised, professionals may become disenfranchised and disengaged. I work with clients to create a governance structure to resolve this paradox.


Redesigning partner appraisal and remuneration

Example: It is an uncomfortable truth that it is not possible to create an “ideal” system of partner appraisal and remuneration and it will always involve difficult compromises among multiple competing priorities. Even with unpopular systems, attempts to change them may provoke resistance among the partnership. Through my research and long experience of helping leaders with these complex challenges I show how to navigate among these competing interests and develop a partner appraisal and remuneration system which, while inevitably not ideal, is definitely optimal and implementable.


Resolving dysfunctional leadership dynamics

Example: Professionals tend to be passionate about their work and eager advocates for their areas of interest. At the very top of the firm this can result in very challenging discussions and dysfunctional leadership dynamics as members of the Executive Committee or Board struggle to reach a consensus on major strategic decisions. Such conflicts can come to a head at leadership offsites. Through my research on leadership dynamics I am able to see beyond the rhetoric and quickly get to the heart of the underlying tensions and work with the senior leadership group to broker consensus and resolve seemingly irreconcilable conflicts.


Preventing post-merger disintegration

Case study: One year after an international merger, relations between the two firms were deteriorating.Passive resistance to working together had started flaring up into outright hostility among senior professionals. I was invited in to try to broker a resolution to the conflict. Beginning by presenting my research on mergers and acquisitions I helped the partners to recognise that the anxiety and hostility they were feeling was “normal” and provided them with an intellectual framework to understand and manage their emotions. I created an environment where they were able to speak more honestly to each other about their concerns, to identify like-minded colleagues in the merger partner.I showed them how to create structures within which they could identify opportunities for cooperation and begin working successfully together.


Leadership counsel and mentoring

Example: My research shows that the typical senior professional does not aspire to a leadership role and may need to be coaxed to take it on. Once in this role they may find themselves unprepared and out of their depth. I work closely with the most senior leaders in professional organizations, whether they are new to the role or dealing with extreme challenges, to help them steer their way through complex political dynamics to secure their own position, bring about meaningful change, and develop the next generation of leaders.


Strengthening and sustaining a collaborative culture

Case study: The Founder and Managing Director of an international consulting firm, the leader in its specialised field, expected the business to expand rapidly over the next few years. They were concerned this rapid growth would threaten the highly collaborative culture which had contributed to their firm’s success. I analysed the social and economic dynamics within the firm to understand better the reasons for its success. I identified how the collaborative culture could be institutionalised, whilst retaining the flexible and intuitive ways of working. I recommended various changes and worked closely with members of the firm to develop and implement these recommendations.


Establishing a common purpose and mutual covenant

Case study: The Managing Partner had been elected to reverse a recent decline in the firm’s league table position and had made huge strides in growing revenues and improving profitability. The firm was now back on top. But in the process partners had become concerned that the Managing Partner was accruing too much power and some felt threatened and distrustful. I was brought in to work with the entire partner group and the leadership team to establish a common purpose that they could all commit to, and to develop a mutual covenant about how they would work together. I led a series of working groups to redesign the governance structure and partner management systems, and to strengthen the bonds of trust and commitment among partners and the leadership team.


Case study: Creating the role of senior partner

The firm was run by a Managing Partner working alone. At a partner conference at which I was speaking he proposed a change to the governance structure – to create the role of a Senior Partner to help him manage the workload of senior leadership. His proposal met with significant opposition among the partnership. Because my research had established the benefits of the dual leadership model for professional service firms I asked the Managing Partner to let me discover the partners' real reasons for opposing the change. I developed a new proposal for the role which directly addressed their concerns. At the next partner conference, I presented my recommendations, alongside my research explaining the value of a dual leadership model. The partners voted overwhelmingly in favour to accept the proposals and within a few months had elected a Senior Partner.