[IMGCAP(1)]Quite often in a CPA firm, the term “manager” gets lost in the shuffle of accountability.
The reason is normally rooted in the fact that a partner is assumed to be capable of managing and having full knowledge of the tenets of management. After all, every partner has oodles and oodles of acronyms behind their name from multiple institutions.
The truth is, these management tenets often get lost in firms whose work is steeped in specialist work, and a CPA’s work is very specialist driven. By definition, specialist work pertains to the specialist tasks performed by a person in a particular skill or specific department.
Normally the title of the individual is a sign of what specialist work the individual excels in. For example, salesman = sales; engineer = engineering work. In an accounting firm, partners are great specialists in tax, audit, valuation, etc., so becoming a top-notch manager is not usually what the managing partner uses as a metric for success. No, that metric is usually based upon billable hours, which identifies how good a specialist the partner is, not how good a manager he or she is. All of that stems from his upbringing.
When a partner matriculated in business school, he or she may have majored in accounting and was required to take every possible accounting course possible. Most everyone who has graduated from a university knows that an accounting major is one of the most difficult business majors that exists, and tough to keep a high GPA.
So when the Management 101 course came around as an elective, why did this specialist student in accounting take such a mundane course? It was taken for one reason—to get an “A” and raise the GPA—and that's what usually happened. But little did they know at the time that the management course meant the difference in the future from being a partner and a managing partner.
By definition, management work pertains to the work that managers and partners perform in the six functions of management, and their corresponding segment of activities: strategy, planning, organizing, leadership, teamwork and control.
The most difficult work in a firm is management work, because of the partner’s accountability for the key objectives of the mission. However, what work do you surmise that partners in a firm are not as proficient in performing? That's an easy answer: management work.
Now that we know the difference between specialist work and management work, let me describe what I am finding in most companies and firms in today’s workplace. There is no depth in management tenets, and therefore little management depth.
If a CPA firm was a football team, how many games would it win by only having a starting team and no second-string team as proficient as the first team, and proficient in management work, not the specialist work?
Every year we find the articles about the top firms and every one of their managing partners is discussing growth, growth, growth. They all will be growing in 2014 by getting more business from current clients or more business from prospective clients, or acquiring clients in an acquisition or merger.
But how can they grow without management depth in the partners that be? How can they grow without having more than just the first team that performs the management work and knows management tenets? And what happens when one of the partners on the first team of management work departs or is injured? Replace that expert in management work with an expert in specialist work? Do you see the dilemma in a firm by not having management depth?
Without management depth a CPA firm is no different than the clients for which it specializes, who also want to grow their company but have no management depth. In this instance the cliché is accurate that says a company or firm will “grow themselves to death” without management depth to manage the growth, not the specialist work.
To be successful and grow, a CPA firm must identify its driving force within a formal strategic plan. By providing services to its client base that extend the value of tax, audit and compliance, the firm insulates the client from competitive influence. That is a segment of management work, not specialist work.
Without developing your partner team into a solid leadership management team that utilizes the basic blocking and tackling tenets of management, with backup at every level, the firm cannot grow consistently. It’s your choice.
Greg Weismantel is president of Epic Group, a management consulting firm and advisor on strategy for small and large firms and companies. It partners with clients to identify their primary driving force while recognizing strategic opportunities of their markets, products and services that will deliver the highest value for ongoing growth and sustainability. Epic is a management consulting firm and advisor on strategy for small and large firms and companies.