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Aligning the Stars

Aligning the Stars

How to Succeed When Professionals Drive Results

  • March 21, 2002
  • min read


Aligning the Stars

It would be hard to discover a significant company in today’s tumultuous business environment that does not rely heavily on some mix of professional services. From the boardroom to the shop floor, the footprints of professionals are everywhere. Boards of directors and CEOs work with accountants, strategy consultants, investment bankers, lawyers, and executive search firms. Marketing departments engage advertising agencies. The chief technology officer employs an army of information technology providers. Human resources, manufacturing, sales—they too rely on outside professionals. With a global market of nearly a trillion dollars, professional service firms (PSFs) are one of the fastest growing sectors in the economy. Talent-driven by design, these firms hold the key to one of the most universal challenges of the knowledge economy: how to manage star talent for business success.

Aligning the Stars: How to Succeed When Professionals Drive Results (Harvard Business School Press, April 26, 2002) fills the huge void for information on this important subject. Written by leading experts in the field—Harvard Business School Professor Jay W. Lorsch, who teaches the top course in the country on leadership in professional service firms, and practitioner, consultant, and former Chief Executive of Bain & Company Thomas J. Tierney—Aligning the Stars explores the forces that are driving change in this rapidly expanding industry and reveals how the most successful firms approach strategy, organization, and leadership.

In 1997, Lorsch and Tierney set out to answer the question: How do professional service firms suceed over time? For instance, how is it that industry leaders consistently attract, retain, and motivate star performers, while nurturing individual commitment to their firms’ strategic goals? Lorsch and Tierney researched leading firms across an array of professional services: consulting, accounting, advertising, information technology, executive search, investment banking, and law. Surprisingly, Ernst & Young; Goldman Sachs & Co.; IBM Global Services; Oglivy & Mather Worldwide; and Latham & Watkins (to name a few), share many attributes that helped them build strong enduring businesses. The authors discovered that competitive advantage derives from a keen ability to govern and lead in a way that encourages both star talent and the firm to prosper—what Lorsch and Tierney call “alignment.”

Alignment is much easier to conceptualize than it is to create, the authors warn: achieving alignment involves managing an organization as a system in which every decision influences—and is influenced by—every other decision, and then making choices that will reinforce the firm’s strategy and values.

Bain Book

Aligning the Stars

Learn more about how leading professional service firms approach strategy, organization, and leadership.

Alignment is a consequence of two separate but interdependent phenomena: the choices the firm’s leadership make over time on a handful of critical dimensions, and the behaviors of the professionals who implement those choices day by day.

Because aligning an organization’s stars is difficult to accomplish, businesses that achieve this state create a powerful competitive advantage.

Tackling the most important challenges facing PSFs today, Aligning the Stars offers specific and practical insight on how to:

  • Integrate strategy, organization, and the needs of individual stars;
  • Develop and motivate accomplished stars—the partner-level professionals who are the firm’s managers and owners, as well as its chief revenue producers;
  • Design people systems to meet the challenge of converting talented recruits into stars;
  • Manage culture, a central factor in shaping behavior and motivating stars and thus sustaining alignment;
  • Create effective organization structure and firm governance in a “partnership-like” setting;
  • Effectively lead, without the power and control often embedded in the corporate world;
  • Shape the personal needs, motivation, and careers of individuals (including yourself!).

Explaining what differentiates the “best of the best” from the rest of the playing field, Aligning the Stars provides valuable lessons for the current and future leaders of every talent-driven business.


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