Some year’s back I spent some time researching what made professional service businesses great. At the time, this was largely driven by the fact that I was promoted into a new role leading a sizeable team at a relatively young age and knew that I had a lot to learn. Over a period of months, I captured all of these lessons in a mind map, which in truth, became so big that it was unwieldy. So I embarked on a process of distilling the work down into buckets.
The result of this, gave me what I now term my 5 AONI’s or Areas of Never-ending Improvement. For me, these 5 areas provide focus for continuous improvement. In short, they are as follows:
- Strategy – At its heart, this is very much about having a clear purpose, understanding your ‘why’ and then using this as a basis to make clear decisions about where and how you compete. All of the other AONI’s should be aligned to this and drive it (I group the other 4 under the term ‘operating model’).
- People – asking ourselves the big questions about whether we are hiring amazing talent and then developing that talent to deliver creative intellectual capital. How does our culture and values support this? Are we on top of the talent management lifecycle?
- Capability – do we have best in class capabilities, are we developing our service lifecycle? Do we invest properly in developing our capabilities? Do we have clear value propositions? Are we innovating for our clients? Do all of these things align to offset the need to compete on price?
- Clients – how good are we at hunting for and farming clients. Are we in the sales or re-order business (the re-order business is much better!)? Have we got a clear value proposition? Do we really understand where our clients are going?
- Operations – in doing all of the above are we delivering the profitability that we want. Do our systems, structures and financial management processes enable the other AONI’s or get in the way? How healthy are we as a business i.e. our performance might be good in the short term, but are we well positioned for longer-term success?
Of course, the AONI concept is a simplification (and it is certainly true that this model is not that different to tools like the balanced scorecard – but this is where I ended up. The similarity to other models out there was an indication that I was probably not too far out in my thinking – I don’t claim that this is a unique insight – just something I find useful). I have used this as a structure for meetings and workshops and as a checklist making sure that we are thinking about the entire system of an organisation and how all of these elements can interrelate to drive growth.