Over the last couple of decades, the role of a partner in a CPA firm has evolved from simply maintaining a significant book of business to a much broader leadership role.
If you are a partner, you should be a role model for the entire team. It’s no longer about being highly billable, working extremely long hours and maintaining a book of business.
Partners must now be willing to be held accountable for a variety of activities. In fact, not too many years ago, becoming a partner was viewed as being “let off the hook” for performance. You had it made! Those days are history and you must now expand your role and become future-ready.
Here is just a partial listing of what is expected of a partner. You must:
- Bring in a significant amount of new business.
- Generate additional business from current clients.
- Cross-sell the expertise of your other partners and associates.
- Be active in recruiting and retaining top talent.
- Be visible and active in your community.
- Serve as a mentor to less experienced CPAs and groom them for leadership as part of the firm’s succession plan.
- Develop, and be a champion of, new service offerings.
- Become known for being an “expert” at something!
- Serve, as needed, on the Executive or Compensation Committees.
- Free up time by delegating a significant portion of your billable work so that managers and other team members have the opportunity to learn and expand their own expertise.
Where can you improve? What more do you need to do? Use this list to help you identify and set personal goals for 2020 and beyond.
During extensive research for the HBR Leadership Handbook, they discovered that the best leaders with the most outsize impact almost always deploy these six classic, fundamental practices:
- uniting people around an exciting, aspirational vision;
- building a strategy for achieving the vision by making choices about what to do and what not to do;
- attracting and developing the best possible talent to implement the strategy;
- relentlessly focusing on results in the context of the strategy;
- creating ongoing innovation that will help reinvent the vision and strategy; and
- “leading yourself”: knowing and growing yourself so that you can most effectively lead others and carry out these practices.
While the leadership development industry is thriving, they found, in its fundamentals, leadership has not changed over the years. It is still about mobilizing people in an organization around common goals to achieve impact, at scale.
Read the article: The Fundamentals of Leadership Still Haven’t Changed.
Have you wondered how long the partnership, ownership model for public accounting firms will continue? I have. If you are at all in tune with the changing workforce, this topic must have crossed your mind.
Baby Boomer partners came of age in a different environment. If they worked long and hard they had a good chance of becoming a partner. Most did not even have to prove themselves as significant rainmakers. It was mostly about technical expertise and work ethic. You just had to prove that you were willing to work 60, 70 or more hours per week and that your work was accurate.
As business development became more and more important, many firms found that they had too many non-business getting partners and the sales aspect of the firm rested on the shoulders of a few, sometimes just one partner.
The current public accounting workforce desires a more balanced lifestyle. They question the process of becoming a partner and wonder if it is all too political. Is it all about who you know and not what you know?
All of this came to mind because of a very interesting post by Caleb Newquist on Going Concern titled, To Partner or Not to Partner, That is the Senior Manager’s Question.
Newquist explores the role of the CPA Senior Manager. Some senior managers share the fact they wonder if they really want to be a partner in a public accounting firm. They also see through the ploy of the non-equity partner, or Director, role as a mere parking lot for people who will never be a partner.
Read the article and see if any of it applies to your own firm.
Many young accountants working in public accounting have a strong desire to work their way up the ladder and become a partner someday.
There are a few problems with this scenario. First of all, “someday” is not nearly descriptive enough for young accountants just beginning their career.
Most non-partner accountants have no clue what they have to do to become a partner nor what they must do once they become a partner. Even worse, many current partners in accounting firm really don’t have a clear understanding of what is expected of them, even if they have been a partner for years.
You have heard it and read it many times, people entering the profession of public accounting want to know what their career path looks like, beginning on day one. They want to know what the next level, and all the levels after that, look like and how long does it take at each level.
I have observed that many firms have realized they need to document the career path process at their firm for their new hires. But, what about the current partner group?
I remember, several years ago, listening to Sam Allred of Upstream Academy describe a few things that CPA firm partners need to do:
Give up The Right to Remain Silent – When you become a partner, you must speak up at THE meeting (the partner meeting). It is not acceptable to nod your head and then go door-to-door after the meeting talking to the other partners. Not speaking up, in the proper forum, creates artificial harmony.
Keep an Open Mind – I relate this one to the 7 Habits, “seek first to understand and then be understood.”
You Give Up the Right to Make All Decisions – Sole-practitioners have this right. When you make the decision to be part of A FIRM, you give up that right.
Learn to Make the Proper Commitment – Saying/thinking, “I will stay out of the way” is not making commitment. It’s a case of “grudging compliance” vs. “spirited commitment.”
Willingness to Get Outside Your Comfort Zone – You cannot stand still. Becoming partner doesn’t mean you “made it” and now you can coast.
You Become a Leader for Change, Not an Anchor – You are helping row the boat, not sitting in the back and throwing out anchors when something doesn’t go your way.
When I am coaching managing partners, I often go to some of the lessons I learned from David Maister. If you don’t know of David Maister, I urge you to visit his website and read his bio and some of his articles.
Until his retirement in 2009, David Maister was widely acknowledged as one of the world’s leading authorities on the management of professional service firms (such as law, accounting, and consulting firms, and companies providing engineering, advertising and executive search services).
For three decades he advised the top firms in these professions, around the world, covering all strategic and managerial issues.
He is the author of the bestselling books:
- Managing the Professional Service Firm (1993),
- True Professionalism (1997),
- The Trusted Advisor (2000),
- Practice What You Preach (2001),
- First Among Equals (2002),
- Strategy and the Fat Smoker (2008).
At my firm, we gave True Professionalism to every new accounting graduate and asked them to read the first two chapters right away and the rest at their leisure.
Maister would often talk about, “What do you want to be famous for? What’s going to make you distinctive?” He had a great story about how he was asked that question when he was a new professor at Harvard. Of course, he was stumped at first but his mentor asked him to think about it and respond in a few days. He more or less blundered into professional service firms and the rest is history.
As you work with your partners, to coach them to more success, try asking them what they want to be famous for.
Here are some David Maister examples:
What Do You Want To Be Famous For?
(What’s going to make you distinctive?)
Intellectual thought leader in a particular service area
Superior client counseling skills
Special abilities in practice development
Special ability to work with certain types of clients (such as, entrepreneurs, high net worth individuals, etc.)
Superior ability to transfer skills to others
Wouldn’t it be great to have someone help you perform at a higher level than you can achieve on your own? Get a coach. Even experienced managing partners need someone to push them to their potential.
Given what we know about top athletes who achieve great things because of their coach, it would seem logical that we could also expect a similar experience in the business world.
In public accounting, true performance coaching seems to be the exception rather than the rule.
Leaders in accounting firms are prime candidates for a coaching process. Does the following sound like you?
- You are busy taking care of your clients, working hard and meeting deadlines.
- You don’t get a lot of direction or guidance from the firm but that’s okay.
- You either don’t have any personal goals or if you do they only see daylight once a year.
- No one is pushing you and things are going pretty well (as far as you know).
- Life is good.
All of this describes most partners in accounting firms.
Seek out a coach. There may be great candidates inside your own firm but don’t be afraid to go outside to seek help.
Read my full article on this topic here.
Read about my coaching services here.