Leading Strategic Change: Strategic L&D in professional services

Oxford Saïd Business School and Meridian West have published the second in our series of research papers aimed at those holding senior leadership positions in professional firms such as Senior and Managing Partners, Practice Group leaders, Heads of Learning and Development (L&D) and HR. Our papers seek to answer some of the most important strategic questions on the agenda for professional firms.

In our first paper of the series, Designing your firm of the future, we began to explore how Learning & Development (L&D) activity can be used as a key enabler for a firm to successfully formulate its strategic goals: the learning methods which can help a senior leadership team to define their ‘Firm of the future’, the value of using L&D strategically with a firm’s clients, and the importance of connecting the learning activities with future-focused groups within a firm, such as innovation teams.

This paper moves on to consider the phase following the definition of a future firm. We focus on the challenging topic of how one leads change towards this aspirational ‘Position B’, and the strategic contribution which L&D can play at every step of this journey. We consider in detail three challenges in implementing change within a firm:

  1.  The challenge of creating momentum: How can your firm create and maintain momentum for change?
  2.  The ‘Change Leadership’ challenge: How can you best equip your firm’s leadership with the skills to
    implement change?
  3. The innovation challenge: How can you maximise the opportunities to innovate at times of strategic change?

If utilised effectively in these areas, our research shows that strategic learning activities will build momentum for more effective implementation of change projects. The desired changes will also be achieved more quickly, thereby delivering tangible competitive advantage for a firm.

Projects can range from the opportunity to acquire a team (or whole business unit) of a different firm, to opening a new office, realigning the firm’s sector focus or facing the need to restructure geographically because of an external, regulatory change.

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Our work with many professional firms has identified two key principles for successful change projects. Firstly, enabling change through the methods suggested here is best achieved when a firm’s leaders see the change leadership process as an ongoing, iterative journey, where they need to continually review and adjust their approach. Secondly, change is achieved most effectively when the L&D function works closely with both senior leaders and the HR function to ensure alignment of goals, and also to minimise the
possibility of derailment of the change process. We outline how to avoid such pitfalls throughout this paper.

Further papers in the series will be published over the coming months but please get in touch if you would like to learn more.

  • Paper 3: Early career pathways
  • Paper 4: Career pathways for senior leaders