[IMGCAP(1)]Managing an accounting firm is not an easy task due to the nature of the ownership and the fact that too often partners have not committed to the basic premise of allowing themselves to be managed. The majority of accounting firms have a managing partner in title and responsibility, but often without the authority and power to lead and manage effectively. Accountability and discipline are the keys to improving performance and growing the firm.

While most partner's intentions are good, they often get caught in the day-to-day tactical issues and fail to focus on the "big rocks" or strategic goals. The tendency is to work in, rather than on, the firm. This is not an unusual instinct, as most partners came through the ranks with a focus on personal as well as managed production. As a partner, the priorities must change to managed production, people and processes in order to grow the firm.

The keys to accountability are establishing written goals and regularly monitoring progress on those goals. Normally, 90 days is the best time increment. It allows people to celebrate success as well as get back on track in a timely fashion if they lose focus.

Accountability is a process and not a slogan. Therefore a formal system is required. It all starts with planning. The tendency of most partners is to focus on action, or chargeable hours, rather than on thinking, planning and managing. Production and planning are both important. The key to partner performance is to get individual partners focused on the vision and the future, and not how the firm has operated in the past.

This requires the ability to change and grow. Not all partners can adjust to change and growth. Many will say they want to change and grow, but without a system of accountability, it doesn't happen. A system of accountability protects the firm and assists the partners in ensuring that they are focused on their unique abilities. As firms grow, it is a fact that some partners do not fit the culture or buy into the vision. Retaining them typically impedes growth and promotes mediocrity while the intent of firm leadership is to promote excellence. A system of accountability provides a method of dealing with this frequent challenge. Problems only grow in size and complexity if ignored.

Let's look at some of the key areas in evaluating a partner. These areas should also be part of the partner's job description. The primary areas are leadership, management, profitability, strategic planning, team building, learning/training, and asset protection.

Each of these areas is important and worthy of further discussion. The size of your firm, the number of partners/owners, and the existing management team will influence the areas of importance.

A sample evaluation form should include the following questions. Partners should be rated based on whether they meet expectations, exceed expectations, or need improvement, and the ratings 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 cli-ents)? 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 themselves 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 written 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 FTE?

 

Team Building

16. Does the partner build strong teams?

17. Does the partner delegate and trust others?

18. Does the partner focus on his unique abilities and the unique abilities 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 FTE?

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. Do they develop successors? If over 50, do they 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 should serve as a starting point or sample for you to develop your own partner evaluation form.

As important as defining what you expect your partners to do, is documenting what you believe they should not be doing. A simple question like, "What are the three things the partner should stop doing?" is as relevant as any of the above 35 questions. Leadership and management skills are different and often confused by the partner group. Most partners need to improve their basic management skills and get over their perception that they don't have time to manage or they want their employees to "figure it out like they had to." Hopefully this will get you thinking and acting on formalizing the process of holding your partners accountable. Accountability starts at the top. Accountability is empowerment, not punishment.

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

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