The development of future partners is of utmost importance in firms of all sizes due to the number of Baby Boomers now occupying those seats.What criteria is your firm using to select future partners? At what age do you select them for the partner track? Who is responsible for their development and learning the economics of today's accounting firm? Or are you simply waiting for another firm to acquire yours?

These are difficult questions - and questions that are ignored in many firms as they focus on short-term results. The answers come in the form of people, planning and processes.

Firm culture is an important factor in determining whether your firm can retain and attract quality people. I stress quality, because the shortage of people in the accounting profession has caused many firms to accept mediocrity - in both their staff and partners. I rarely consult with a firm where partners don't readily admit that they made someone a partner because they were afraid they were going to leave.

Is this a good strategy that will improve the culture of your firm? I say "No," and it indicates other symptoms about the firm's ability to retain and attract quality people. In his book, Good to Great, Jim Collins stresses that it is the job of leadership to get the right people on the bus and the wrong people off the bus. Additionally, it is important to get them into the right seats if you wish to build a "shared vision" firm. Collins goes on to list the five levels of leadership:

1. Capable individual.

2. Contributing team member.

3. Competent manager.

4. Effective manager.

5. Executive.

Where would you place most of your partners? Sadly, too many never get beyond Level Two. It requires ongoing development to reach Levels Three, Four and Five. According to Collins, "Level Five leaders channel their egos away from themselves and into the larger goal of building a great company."

I have met many managing partners over the years who are at Level Five - or could be there if they would only get out of the trap of retaining a book of business. There are many reasons this happens, but the primary one is compensation. I have also met too many partners who are at Levels One and Two. They have the technical skills and are willing to work long hours, but they don't focus on the development of others and the shared vision.

Great leaders develop their successors. Therefore, every firm today needs to develop a program for managers and leaders. Too often, at Levels One and Two, people do not value the skills required to become Level Three, Four and Five leaders. It requires commitment from the individual and the firm for people to develop beyond Level Two.

Finding people with commitment is often the problem I hear when I address audiences comprised of older partners. Over the years, I have developed the following list of characteristics of great partners who are leaders. They are committed to a big vision and growth; willing to delegate; passionate; respectful and appreciative of people; continually updating personal skills; committed to a learning/training culture; consistently offering employees new challenges, growth and rewards; living the firm's core values; willing to be managed and held accountable; and willing to leverage processes and technology.

These characteristics are important for firms that want to build an organization beyond just a job. Identifying people with these characteristics early in their careers is imperative. People with these characteristics do not have to wait around for someone to retire. They have many opportunities in public accounting and industry. This is why firm growth is so important in retaining and attracting quality people.

Additionally, the following characteristics are representative of partners who are great managers (Level Three). They:

* Promote the training/learning culture;

* Are even-tempered;

* Are good listeners and communicators;

* Focus on others' unique abilities;

* Are sensitive to work/life integration;

* Are willing to be managed and held accountable;

* Are role models who support the firm's core values;

* Develop and attract talent;

* Are accessible and approachable;

* Enable others' success;

* Are flexible and versatile;

* Are effective planners and resource managers; and,

* Provide frequent and honest feedback.

Many firms have compensation formulas that fail to reward for management and leadership skills. Therefore, it is difficult for many partners to get beyond Levels Two and Three. Knowing a person's unique abilities when they start in your firm is a distinct advantage. The Kolbe Index provides both the employee and the firm insight into how they prefer to work and how they fit with other team members. I recommend using this tool prior to offering someone employment. The Kolbe Index is a great way to get people moving through Jim Collins' five levels of leadership.

There are five action steps that your firm can take that will improve your ability to attract, retain and select future partners and managers. The steps are:

* 1. Have all current partners take the Kolbe Index. (A side benefit is that this knowledge will improve communication among partners.)

* 2. Develop job descriptions for each partner that focus upon their unique abilities.

* 3. Identify members of the management team. Complete a team synergy report (based upon the Kolbe Index).

* 4. Utilize 90-day game plans/accountability reviews on all people in the firm.

* 5. Integrate performance with compensation (the Balanced Scorecard Approach).

While these are not difficult steps, they require time and change-management skills. You should expect some resistance to change. This is about progress - not perfection.

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

Register or login for access to this item and much more

All Accounting Today content is archived after seven days.

Community members receive:
  • All recent and archived articles
  • Conference offers and updates
  • A full menu of enewsletter options
  • Web seminars, white papers, ebooks

Don't have an account? Register for Free Unlimited Access