[IMGCAP(1)]Managing an accounting firm is not easy for a number of reasons, notonly because of the nature of ownership, but also because partners donot usually commit to allowing themselves to be managed. A majority offirms have a managing partner in title and responsibility, but thisindividual usually lacks the authority and power to be effective.
Partneraccountability and discipline are critical to maximized performance andfirm growth. While most partners have good intentions, they often getcaught 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. Thisinstinct is not unusual, because most partners rose through the ranksfocused on production. A partner's priorities, however, should focus onmanaging people and processes as well as production in order to growthe firm.
The keys to making accountability work are todocument goals and monitor the progress on those goals. Ninety days isan ideal time period to review progress. Individuals can celebrateachievements, 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.
Theaccountability process begins with planning. Most partners focus onaction (i.e., chargeable hours), rather than thinking, planning andmanaging. Nevertheless, planning is as important in the long run asbeing productive. Partners should deliberate how to implement thefirm's vision and create a prosperous future - and forget how the firmhas operated in the past. One must be willing to embrace personalchange and growth in order to become this kind of leader, and not allpartners are capable or willing to make the necessary adjustments. Manywill say they want to change and grow, but the reality is that theywon't without an accountability system in place at the firm. Systematicaccountability protects the firm and ensures that partners focus upontheir unique abilities.
As a firm grows, it often becomesapparent that some partners do not fit the culture or buy into thevision. Retaining these individuals impedes growth and promotesmediocrity, but firm leadership should always strive to promoteexcellence. A system of accountability provides a method of dealingwith this challenge. Problems only grow in size and complexity ifignored.
Let's examine some key areas for partnerevaluations. These should be a part of every partner's job description:leadership; management; strategic planning; team-building;learning/training; firm profitability; and asset protection.
Eachis important and worthy of in-depth discussion. The size of your firm,number of partners/owners and its existing management team willinfluence the areas of importance. A sample evaluation form wouldinclude the following questions for different areas, with partnersranked as exceeding expectations, meeting expectations, or needingimprovement. The rating scale should be based upon the partner's jobdescription. (Yes, partners should have job descriptions as afoundation for accountability).
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 firmshould look like in three years? Are they engaged in the planningprocess?
3. Do they communicate the vision to allstakeholders (partners, staff and clients)? Do they communicateregularly and consistently? Does the partner provide confidence andsustain 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 firmwell? Are they a good role model for members of the firm?
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?
11.Does the partner ensure that a documented plan (one-page) is in placefor their department or niche, with priority goals, measurements,action steps, assigned parties and due dates? Does the plan integratewith 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?
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?
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?
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?
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?
Whilethese 35 questions are not all-inclusive, they serve as a startingpoint for your firm to start developing a customized partner evaluationform. As important as defining what your firm expects a partner to dois documenting what you believe they should not be doing. A simplequestion like, "What are three things the partner should stop doing?"is as relevant as any of the questions listed above.
Leadershipand management skills are different and often confused by the partnergroup. Most partners need to improve basic management skills and let goof the perception that they don't have time to manage (and simply wantemployees 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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