Every firm has one: the professional who has a killer instinct for bringing in new clients, can work a referral network almost to shreds and seems super resilient when hearing the word "no" from a prospect. they can be unorganized, fearless, driven -- and occasionally unmanageable.

They can also be a managing partner's worst nightmare. And did we mention that they often carry a huge book of business?

A maverick that caught our eye is one of our clients, a CPA in private practice who has a multi-million-dollar book of business. He approaches every client like they're his last, constantly thinking about ideas that aren't necessarily accounting remedies but great business ideas to help his clients. He can take a simple concept, like billing, and come up with an alternative fee structure that fits the client's business and not just the accounting firm's paradigm.

He builds target lists, relentlessly researches prospective clients, identifies weak spots in the prospect's business strategies, and then rounds up a team of other partners to figure out who can refer them in. His Achilles' heel is execution -- great ideas, but little to no time or focus to execute them. He needs an accountability partner -- in this case, us.

We love mavericks. They inject enthusiasm into firms that often lack it. They also love risk and push boundaries (respecting ethical boundaries, of course). They raise the bar for others in the firm that begins to build a culture of client-focused service and makes the firm a fun place to work.

 

HOW DO YOU MANAGE A MAVERICK?

They do require some specialized handling. Here are some tips:

Let them know they are appreciated. Mavericks need a high degree of personal recognition for their contributions to the firm. Even if they have an idea that is wacky to you, let them know you appreciate their willingness to put it out there.

Give a maverick boundaries. If you've ever had to corral a wandering toddler, you get the idea. Let them know what's off limits and suggest where they should be spending their time. For example, if the maverick is a great business developer, negotiate a set number of practice development hours for the year in addition to a billable hours goal.

Mavericks need managing. Who in the firm can manage the maverick? Usually a managing partner is a good idea, especially if they have the ability to listen to the maverick's ideas while culling out the good ones from the not-so-good ones.

Don't discount a maverick. Out of the hundreds of ideas a maverick can bring to a firm, there are a handful that are truly innovative and worthy of consideration.

Recognize that mavericks have an attraction factor. Younger staff and lower-performing partners love to glom onto them in hopes of picking up ideas on how they can build their own business. Be wary here. A maverick who is driven by big bonuses and juicy compensation plans may brush off advances from other professionals, leaving the impression that they are uncooperative.

Ask the maverick for a plan. One thing about mavericks - they can be really unfocused, often chasing the bright shiny object while ignoring clients. You can't recognize great client outcomes and profitability if you don't have a plan in place. Challenge the maverick to give you a written business development plan -- with revenue targets -- for the year. Then set a quarterly meeting to review their progress.

Mavericks need resources. When a maverick has a great idea, chances are good that they will need internal resources to carry it out. We see mavericks needing administrative help with prospect research or setting up webinars or seminars for clients, to name a couple. Do you have internal resources to help the maverick? And yes, you guessed it -- others in the firm may resent devoting resources to the maverick when they can't seem to get things done themselves.

Mavericks can breathe fresh air into a stagnant firm, re-energize tired professionals with new ideas, and challenge the status quo. If you can understand their motivation, appreciate them for who they are, and manage them, a maverick can be a great resource for your firm.

Kristin Wing is a principal with AccelerAction, which focuses on marketing and branding for professional services firms. Reach her at kwing@ acceleraction.com.

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