In the past week I’ve had two conversations closely related to the Paula Principle, and to each other, in rather unlikely settings. Both dealt with the issue of whether professional occupations such as lawyers and surveyors needed to require people to work 12-14 hours days in order to make progress up the professional ladder.
Nigel plays baritone sax in the the band where I also play (the South London Jazz Orchestra, since you ask, see www.slcm.org.uk). We were waiting for our gig to kick off in a pub in Tulse Hill on a rather damp Sunday afternoon recently, and so started chatting about non-band things. Nigel has been a successful chartered surveyor, working hours which were way beyond normal. He actually enjoyed the pressure and managed the hours, but he did not accept that clients should always expect to have the same person available – with the corollary that high-performers should be permanently available. This requirement is often the one that prevents women from moving up the ladder. So Nigel made a point of carefully introducing colleagues to clients as people he had faith in, and whom they could contact with as much confidence as if he himself were there. The aim was to get out from under the assumption that he and only he would do; and so reduce the need for omnipresence.
On to my wife’s nephew’s stag night, last week (yes, there’s nowhere the Paula Principle doesn’t reach). One of his friends, Nico, co-manages a legal property partnership. But the partnership does not employ a set of lawyers and other professionals, with all the obligations that would go with this. Instead, their lawyers offer no commitment of time and are not required to come into the office. They are responsible for bringing in their own work – whenever they bring in work they are paid a fixed percentage of the fee for that work, and can decide how many cases/deals they want to take on, and manage their workload accordingly There is no guarantee of work; but when there is work it is well paid, in part because overheads are much lower. The interesting thing is that their first three principal consultants are women who did not want to work ridiculous hours by committing themselves to a conventional law firm (Nico himself had done that for a while, and had enough).
I know that at a general level there are lots of issues around agency work (Nico’s arrangement being a high level version). But it shows that with imagination and commitment there are new models of professional management and working practices to be developed, which could make much better use of all those competences out there.