We know service firms – We are one!

Professional and business service firms are distinguishable from the broader service sector in that they rely on highly skilled and educated employees, each playing an essential role in the delivery of the firm’s services to its clients. Attorneys, accountants, actuaries, engineers, and many others all have their own unique traits and quirks that have to be recognized. The market for professionals in these roles is not the same as in corporate structures, and consultants who fail to recognize and understand that often lead professional firms astray.

Merces is not just a consulting group that helps a professional firm pay its staff.  We work hard to fully understand how you work. Then we help you define roles that maximize your effectiveness and efficiency and develop logical progressions of jobs that match a professional’s career development. Merces can even help you compare your performance to those of peers to see what you might be able to learn from others that can make your firm more effective.

A professional service firm faces its own unique set of challenges, ranging from attracting and retaining new graduates to finding roles for valuable employees who are not considered “partner” material. Separating compensation for the work performed from compensation for the partner role can be critical, particularly as organizations grow, requiring more complex management structures. Something as simple as ensuring that compensation programs are fair and equitable among far-flung offices can be the lynch pin that holds a firm together.

Some of Merces’ key long-term relationships are with professional service firms; our unique approach of looking not just at pay, but also at how firms work, is recognized as integral to our success. We provide professional services organizations with a broad range of services that help them run more efficiently, better utilize their financial resources, improve the opportunities for their employees, and enhance their ability to provide services to their clients.

Explore our services to professional service firms below. Beneath that, you’ll find some of the manufacturing clients who have worked with Merces in the past.


Professional services organizations can get trapped, particularly as they grow, in the assumption that all of their partners or shareholders are contributing equally to the management of their firms. The truth is that, even among a group of “equals,” various individuals require different pay. The role of “manager” or “practice leader” is much different from the role of a partner primarily concerned with managing a group of clients. Establishing and maintaining the relationship between the firm and a crucial client is different from managing a group of smaller clients. The relative value to the firm generated by individuals in certain jobs should be recognized in pay.
A truly effective executive compensation program will provide fairness and equity even within the ranks of owners and shareholders. Today a structured program is not a luxury but a necessity. Merces works with top management and owner groups to:

  • Establish a formal compensation philosophy
  • Develop and implement procedures for determining executive pay
  • Collect and analyze competitive data
  • Set up formal salary ranges and incentive compensation plans
  • Develop approaches for managing performance and adjusting pay

We understand the challenges of working with professionals with strong opinions and a wide range of experience in the area of executive compensation. All of our assignments include training and presentations to ensure that everyone understands the implications of their actions and can feel confident in their decisions.

It is possible that your organization is already paying enough, in total, to support a workforce at its current level of performance. On the other hand, your firm might not be staffed in a way that allows you to pay competitively and fairly. Sometimes a “top heavy” firm will be out of balance, making it virtually impossible to distribute a finite amount in a competitive way. Without a structured approach to compensation management, a professional service firm can see problems such as:

  • Needing to pay more to new hires than experienced staff in the same job
  • Becoming training centers for clients or other firms through failure to keep pay competitive
  • Having long serving staff who are paid well above the market but performing at a low level

None of these problems are inevitable. With extensive knowledge and years of experience working with professional service firms nationwide in a variety of settings, large and small, Merces has expertise in developing, implementing and administering structured employee compensation programs in this industry.

Our programs reflect the differences between professional service firms and the broader service sector. This allows us to develop pay structures to reflect unique career path designs and understand that the labor market for professional service firms is distinctly different. For example, setting the pay range for a large law firm’s receptionist to a market that includes receptionists in small dental practices will never provide the context needed to compete for the right level of talent.

We approach pay management by considering three key elements of pay fairness and equity:

  • Internal Equity – A job evaluation methodology determines the relative value of jobs to the firm, ensuring pay opportunities match job contributions, even when no market data is available. A pay program that does not properly incorporate job evaluation is not only less effective, but it also opens the organization up to potential unnecessary liability.
  • External Competitiveness – Defining ranges that clearly outline the pay opportunities for each job helps professional service firms understand the nature of the market and how their “non-benchmark” jobs fit in. We ensure that firms properly define their “market,” and we collect the data that is most appropriate not just for their market but for their business model.
  • Paying for Performance – A fair and equitable pay program does no good if it isn’t administered fairly and equitably. Creating performance management plans that ensure appropriate compensation for employees’ contributions to the firm is key to effective pay management. We can show your organization how to use job descriptions to create customized performance management programs for each job.

Merces’ clients report high levels of satisfaction with the pay programs we develop. Beyond solving immediate problems, they help management better budget and understand their cost structure, and they promote a higher level of understanding among employees of how their pay is determined.

Managing a professional service firm requires not just an understanding of organizational structure but of the organization’s mission and the clients it serves. As firms grow in size and complexity, they develop needs for new structures – sometimes in management, and sometimes in career paths. New jobs have to be created, and internal administrative roles might be developed to provide support for the firm’s “operational” staff. Every firm is different, but our experience can bring your firm ideas you might not have thought of. We can:

  • Help with your strategic planning to make sure human resource implications of proposed strategies are understood.
  • Align senior management structures to respond to operational challenges
  • Design approaches to motivate senior staff to transition clients to other staff to ensure continuity in the relationship between the firm and its clients
  • Develop new staffing strategies to manage growth and career development
  • Create accurate and effective job descriptions tied directly to performance management programs

Merces understands that each organization is different but that organizations in an industry can learn a lot, not just from each other, but from those in other industries. Effective solutions begin by clearly defining the objectives and expectations and working toward the best possible results.

Many human resources programs, as well as other organization initiatives, fail, not because they are poorly designed, but because they are poorly communicated. To be perfectly honest, expertise in a profession does not always translate to expertise in communicating to employees. Communication is not simply a matter of volume of information, but also effectiveness of delivery. Any new program – or any change – requires development of a strategy to ensure that information is effectively disseminated to the right population at the right time. The communication also involves gathering information from employees, whether it is for deciding which approach to take, or gauging the reaction to actions already taken. Merces works with its professional firm clients to:

  • Design strategies for communicating new programs and practices, preparing supporting materials and delivering information to employees
  • Collect employee opinions and feedback through surveys and focus groups

Communications services can be provided as part of another consulting project, or as a stand-alone assignment.