As you may have noticed, this issue features our second annual Managing Partner Elite list, which aims to recognize superior performance in firm leadership. The trick with creating a list like this, and with similar lists like the Top 100 Most Influential People in our September issue, is to identify your criteria early on, so you know exactly why you're picking the members.

With the MP Elite, for instance, we developed a long questionnaire that delved into revenue growth, staff turnover, firm administration, technology adoption, innovation in services, expansion, succession planning and much more. Without all that information, the process risks devolving into picking the people we've heard the most about. (Interestingly, "Who have we heard the most about?" is an important question in the Top 100 Most Influential process, but it's only one of many other factors.)

The fact is that we often don't exactly know why we like someone, or respect them, or hire them, or promote them. We don't know why we work with them or for them, why we serve them or support them. It's just a feeling, a judgment we make subconsciously. When it comes to our lists, we have to be very careful to establish our criteria in advance, or we risk picking candidates we wouldn't be able to defend, because we couldn't articulate our reasons.

Something similar applies to your staff and your clients. Are you picking the right ones? Do you know what your ideal entry-level staff will be like -- what skills they'll have, what outlook, what career goals? How about your ideal partner -- do you want committed team players, or strong individual rainmakers, technical experts or inspiring managers? Do you know what industry your ideal client will be in, or how much revenue they'll make, or how much they'll want to interact with you?

The more you know what kind of people you want in your firm and on your client list, the better able you'll be to pick them. You won't hire graduates because they seem eager, but because they're looking for the kind of career path you can offer, and so are likely to stay longer. You'll offer partnerships to people because they complement your leadership team, not because "they've been here for so long," or because you're afraid they'll leave in the short term. And you won't work with clients just because they can fog a mirror and sign a check, but because you and they can both profit the most from your relationship.

In other words, be picky -- but know why you're being picky, and have your picky points established in advance.

Most important, though, is to know that very few staff or potential partners or prospects will meet all your criteria. No MP excels in all the areas we laid out in our questionnaire, and not all of our Top 100 People are influential in the same way. You may hire someone who's a tax whiz but a terrible manager, or work with a client who's overly demanding but extremely loyal.

Here again, having your criteria established will be a help. To start, you can prioritize them, so that you know that you don't, in fact, value technical skills over management skills, or that loyalty doesn't matter as much to you as a client who's willing to wait a little for that report.

And then, if you still hire them as staff or as clients despite their not being ideal, you'll have exactly identified the areas where you want them to improve -- and can start planning how to make them better.

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