Managing an accounting firm is not easy for a number of reasons, not only because of the nature of ownership, but also because partners do not usually commit to allowing themselves to be managed. A majority of firms have a managing partner in title and responsibility, but this individual usually lacks the authority and power to be effective.

Partner accountability and discipline are critical to maximized performance and firm growth. While most partners have good intentions, they often get caught in day-to-day tactical issues and fail to focus on "big rocks" (strategic goals). They tend to work in, rather than on, the firm. This instinct is not unusual, because most partners rose through the ranks focused on production. A partner's priorities, however, should focus on managing people and processes as well as production in order to grow the firm.

The keys to making accountability work are to document goals and monitor the progress on those goals. Ninety days is an ideal time period to review progress. Individuals can celebrate achievements, as well as get back on track sooner, rather than later, when necessary.

Accountability is a process, not a slogan. Therefore, a formalized system is required to make it work.

The accountability process begins with planning. Most partners focus on action (i.e., chargeable hours), rather than thinking, planning and managing. Nevertheless, planning is as important in the long run as being productive. Partners should deliberate how to implement the firm's vision and create a prosperous future - and forget how the firm has operated in the past. One must be willing to embrace personal change and growth in order to become this kind of leader, and not all partners are capable or willing to make the necessary adjustments. Many will say they want to change and grow, but the reality is that they won't without an accountability system in place at the firm. Systematic accountability protects the firm and ensures that partners focus upon their unique abilities.

As a firm grows, it often becomes apparent that some partners do not fit the culture or buy into the vision. Retaining these individuals impedes growth and promotes mediocrity, but firm leadership should always strive to promote excellence. A system of accountability provides a method of dealing with this challenge. Problems only grow in size and complexity if ignored.

Let's examine some key areas for partner evaluations. These should be a part of every partner's job description: leadership; management; strategic planning; team-building; learning/training; firm profitability; and asset protection.

Each is important and worthy of in-depth discussion. The size of your firm, number of partners/owners and its existing management team will influence the areas of importance. A sample evaluation form would include the following questions for different areas, with partners ranked as exceeding expectations, meeting expectations, or needing improvement. The rating scale should be based upon the partner's job description. (Yes, partners should have job descriptions as a foundation for accountability).

 

LEADERSHIP

1. Does the partner support the firm's vision? Do they have the proper balance between long-term vision and current results?

2. Do they spend an adequate amount of time thinking about what the firm should look like in three years? Are they engaged in the planning process?

3. Do they communicate the vision to all stakeholders (partners, staff and clients)? Do they communicate regularly and consistently? Does the partner provide confidence and sustain employee morale?

4. Does the partner participate in peer groups and stay current professionally?

5. Is the partner visible in the community, and do they represent the firm well? Are they a good role model for members of the firm?

 

MANAGEMENT

6. Does the partner hold themself accountable?

7. Do they spend an adequate amount of time managing and holding others accountable?

8. Does the partner ensure that their team has adequate resources and training?

9. Are they enthusiastic and even-tempered? Can they make a decision promptly and effectively?

10. Do they allow others to receive appropriate recognition?

 

STRATEGIC PLANNING

11. Does the partner ensure that a documented plan (one-page) is in place for their department or niche, with priority goals, measurements, action steps, assigned parties and due dates? Does the plan integrate with the firm's strategic plan?

12. Does the partner involve team members in the planning process?

13. Does the partner complete 90-day game plans on time?

14. Does the partner complete accountability reviews on time?

15. Does the partner manage to a targeted revenue amount per full-time equivalent?

 

TEAM-BUILDING

16. Does the partner build strong teams?

17. Does the partner delegate and trust others?

18. Does the partner focus on their own unique abilities, and those of others?

19. Does the partner utilize the Kolbe Synergy model?

20. Does the partner hold team members accountable?

 

LEARNING/TRAINING CULTURE

21. Does the partner support a learning/training culture?

22. Does the partner have a teachable point of view in order to transfer knowledge? (Training and learning is a two-way street.)

23. Does the partner ensure that partners and staff attend learning sessions?

24. Does the partner develop others and ensure that the firm's culture is consistent among offices?

25. Does the partner continue to learn and grow personally and professionally?

 

FIRM PROFITABILITY

26. Does the partner manage to the strategic plan and budget, including revenue per full-time equivalent?

27. Does the partner meet revenue goals?

28. Does the partner leverage technology?

29. Does the partner comply with, and ensure enforcement of, firm policies and procedures?

30. Does the partner terminate non-performers?

 

ASSET PROTECTION

31. Does the partner abide by firm agreements and comply with firm standards, policies and procedures?

32. Does the partner develop successors? If over age 50, does the partner have a one-page succession plan?

33. Does the partner develop intellectual capital for the firm and promote the transfer of knowledge?

34. Does the partner develop alliances and relationships?

35. Does the partner terminate underperforming clients?

 

While these 35 questions are not all-inclusive, they serve as a starting point for your firm to start developing a customized partner evaluation form. As important as defining what your firm expects a partner to do is documenting what you believe they should not be doing. A simple question like, "What are three things the partner should stop doing?" is as relevant as any of the questions listed above.

Leadership and management skills are different and often confused by the partner group. Most partners need to improve basic management skills and let go of the perception that they don't have time to manage (and simply want employees to "figure it out, like I had to do").

My intent is to get you thinking and acting to formalize a process of holding your partners accountable.

Accountability starts at the top.

 

Gary Boomer, CPA, is the president of Boomer Consulting, in Manhattan, Kan.

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