Originations at a professional services firm

Consulting, law, and other professional services firms often use the concept of originations at the leadership/partner level, originations being somewhat crudely defined as who gets credit for bringing in new business.

Because it has ties to compensation, originations have been the source of turf wars and decaying professional relationships among colleagues in an environment that so desperately needs open collaboration and information-sharing for firms to be truly successful and client-focused.

So how are professional services firms supposed to reconcile these two seemingly disparate concepts? Is it possible to maximize your personal originations and still optimize collaboration and client service?

Firms can start to reconcile by creating a clear set of ground rules for open communication about originations to occur on a client-by-client or project-by-project basis. Here are some:

  1. Originations don’t necessarily equate to revenue to your department. Let’s not compare apples and oranges. You can bring in business for any part of the firm and have that be recognized as your origination and comp. That is a separate issue from the revenue you manage in your department, which may be fed by you or other partners.
  2. Originations don’t have to be defined by who brings the client through the door. In fact, feeding clients to the firm doesn’t necessarily produce revenue. After all, those potentials might need to be vetted further, and there is something to be said for collaboration to land the client, rather than cold hand-offs that can leave the client feeling disjointed. If it’s a collaborative effort to get the client to sign on the dotted line, you can split the origination.
  3. At our firm, departments tend to service clients at different stages of product development and maturity. This creates a nice evolution of service to our clients from one department to another over time. The department head for the downstream service has incentive to help land a client for an upstream department, in order to promote client retention and realize ongoing revenue for the firm (and get a piece of the pie later!).

I actually prefer that departments heads work out their originations among themselves. I would never say that people shouldn’t stick to their guns to protect their originations, but evolving the conversation to a larger context of what the client needs over time, and how a split can be negotiated may help reinforce the concept that “a rising tide lifts all boats,” and the firm may be healthier for it.


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