The Canadian legal and business communities are getting over the shock that a storied, successful and well known establishment corporate law firm has decided to shut its doors this week. (Read the Financial Post: Heenan Blaikie partners vote to wind up operations)
Heenan Blaikie has been an icon in the business community in Canada for decades. The fact that it can just disappear and disintegrate in a matter of weeks leaves many lessons to be learned. Here are some of the things that were reinforced for me this week.
#3 – Job security is a myth
The only place that job security exists is in your head. There is no such thing as a safe, life-long, job.
Throughout my career in recruitment, I have always heard from individuals that were looking for the safety and security of a career in a firm that is too big to fail. And every so often, stories of failures, restructurings, refocused strategies and mass-layoffs make the headlines. If you would have asked any employee (and many partners) this past December if they had any fear for their career with the firm, they would have given you a look that would be a mix between being puzzled and that you must be out of your mind.
Don’t ever think you have job security. I don’t care what company you work for, even if you work for supposedly secure jobs in government. You job is at risk. If you don’t want to be unemployed, or to minimize your time in transition, you must build and invest in your network. You can only expect your network to work for you if you have invested in it before.
If you’re a CFO or senior finance professional, you may want to read my chapter on CFO Transition in my upcoming book.
#2 – Beware the multi-headed monster
If you’re my age, you remember Sesame Street well. You will also remember the two-headed monster with a smile.
Professional services firms have a challenge becoming a business like the others. The nature of this type of firm (accounting, legal, engineering, marketing or even executive search) can be very perplexing. In most publicly owned businesses, the boss is the CEO and the Board represents the owners. Managing relationships for an executive in a standard environment can be challenging enough. While there is a chain of command, the number of people to keep happy is limited and controlled.
In a professional services firm, every partner is the boss. Add a number of people with big egos and who are not afraid of litigation and you can find yourself facing a multi-headed monster that is not as cute and cuddly as the Sesame Street version.
Managing relationships is a key component for the success of any executive. From the perspective of a CFO, I believe it looks like this. In my soon to be released book, I discuss the issues of managing these relationships for success, and dedicate one chapter to the challenges of managing the relationships of the people you report to.
#1 – The world is changing. Are you?
This applies to all businesses as well as individuals.
The post-mortem on Heenan Blaikie will continue for a while. When a personal relationship breaks up, there is his story, her story and the truth. In a partnership that has many heads and egos, the story can only be more complicated.
From an informed outsider’s perspective, the legal industry has been going through changes in the past years and decades, mirroring the changes that have been going on in rest of the business world. In today’s world, business needs to grow to keep their competitive advantage, needs to assess strategic opportunities and threats, and must take on a more global perspective while keeping a local flavor.
All businesses must adapt to the changing realities facing them. Failure to do so can lead to doors closing.
On a more personal note, each one of us needs to be aware that to continue to stay relevant and employable, we must continue to improve, change and adapt so that we can thrive. Sitting at your desk while the world changes outside your window will only leave you dazed, confused and lost when security leads you outside the building.
What are you doing to:
- Create your own job security?
- Get the best out of your work relationships?
- Stay ahead of the curve in a continually changing world?