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December 17, 2019

Introducing “How to Lead a Values-Based Professional Services Firm”

Written by Don Scales
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I have some big news: I just co-wrote a book. It’s called How to Lead a Values-Based Professional Services Firm, written with Fran Biderman-Gross, CEO of Advantages, the company that was instrumental to our own rebrand in 2018. Together, we’ve introduced a new direction for the $2 trillion professional services industry. Here’s how: our book challenges professional services leaders to stop being obsessed with utilization rates and billable hours -- and to start running every aspect of their businesses based on their purpose, values, and story.

The professional services industry is my life and my passion. I’ve been privileged to be CEO of, iCrossing, and now Investis Digital. I helped transform iCrossing from a search agency into a full-service powerhouse that was acquired by Hearst for $300 million. I’ve been part of close to 40 mergers and acquisitions. Now I’m proud to be leading the evolution of Investis Digital into a powerful digital communications company with more than 2000 clients. Since I started out in this industry, the world has changed dramatically. Clients and employees want to know what you stand for and what you believe in, not just what you do. It’s no longer enough to work with a firm that offers excellent services; clients want to do business with services firms that align with their own beliefs and values -- and job seekers look for the same from employers. Clients also want more than a transaction. They seek collaboration.

Professional services firms have helped other companies respond to these changes, oftentimes by helping businesses tell more compelling stories about how they’re embracing sustainability/ESG or how they’ve adopted the triple P's (planet, people, profit). And yet, professional services firms themselves have remained stuck in old ways of thinking. And who can blame them? No one has stepped up to show them a more progressive and successful way to run their companies besides billable hours.

Until now.

In How to Lead a Values-Based Professional Services Firm, Fran and I describe in detail how to flourish by building every aspect of your operations – from recruitment to finance – on your purpose, values, and story:

  • Purpose: why your business exists. Purpose is the starting point for an organization, regardless of size. Purpose acts as an anchor that guides everyday decisions and behaviors. You start your brand foundation with your purpose: it becomes the magnet that attracts the right people, partners, and profits while repelling all the wrong ones.
  • Values: the unshakable and unbreakable believes and behaviors that define your culture. Values-based organizations are truly purpose-driven, talking about what they believe in, what is important to their stakeholders, and how they perceive the world.
  • Story: the fundamental narrative you share about your business. Stories resonate with people much more than data. Good stories create emotional connections between the audience and the storyteller. They strategically support your message when marketing and selling your company to potential employees and clients. The fact is, in the 21st century, if your business isn’t telling and owning its own story, someone else will take control of the narrative.

To be clear, we’re not saying profits no longer matter. They matter very much. But we believe that when a business focuses first on creating a brand foundation through its purpose, values, and story, that business will maximize its profits by hiring and keeping the best talent and working with clients who want to form long-term relationships based on mutual purpose and values, not based on a transaction.

Put another way: when you build a strong foundation, you set yourself up for long-term success. When you care only about the latest RPF in front of you, you’re only as good as your last win. Purpose, values, and story are all about rising above the tyranny of immediate expectations and delivering long-term value.

How to Lead a Values-Based Professional Services Firm was forged in the trenches of everyday experience, including my present-day role at Investis Digital. As I blogged in 2018, Investis Digital has undergone a profound change. We’ve acquired two firms, broadened our focus, expanded internationally, and grown our client base. You don’t do all that lurching from one day to the next pouring over a spreadsheet. You get a company rallied around a purpose, values, and story. When I came aboard, I knew we needed to make some changes to fulfill our potential, and defining our core values was a key to getting our culture ready to change. And we continue to celebrate and encourage the uptake of those values in a number of ways, including visual representation of our values in our local offices, and holding an annual “Donnie Awards” to uplift employees who live and share our values in compelling, creative ways.

Our book details the journey we are on at Investis Digital, including some candid discussion of the steps we’ve needed to take in order to grow. That’s because I firmly believe you need to hold yourself accountable to your words. And I would not have it any other way.

If you’re a leader or aspire to be one, I think this book is for you. It’s going to be available on January 29, 2020, but you can pre-order a copy, and learn more about the book, on this website:

Personally, I think getting a copy of How to Lead a Values-Based Professional Services Firm would be just the right way to get your 2020 off to a right start. Sure, I’m a little biased. But I’m also passionate about building value. And that’s what our book will help you do.

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