Are your partner candidates like needles in a haystack?

Register now

As I travel across the country working with small and midsized CPA firms, one of the most common concerns expressed by managing partners and other senior partners at these firms is they don’t have a sufficient number of partner candidates who can help perpetuate the firm into the next generation.

When I ask the question, “What are you doing to develop the next generation?” I usually hear a lot of lip service and superficial things that, in most cases, don’t add up to a hill of beans.

What firm leadership puts into developing the next generation of leadership is what comes out on the other end. After all, input equals output. Partner candidates don’t grow on trees, and if your firm isn’t doing much to develop its youth, then it shouldn’t expect to have an impressive number of partner candidates who have the potential of perpetuating the firm.

There are eight competencies that need to be developed in the next generation if firm superstars are to become future leaders. It is the responsibility of the managing partner and the other senior partners to give potential partners the opportunity to exhibit the following skills and abilities within these eight competencies:

1. Client relationships and client service excellence:

  • Demonstrating strong business acumen and judgment;
  • Becoming a trusted business advisor so clients seek counsel on multitudes of business matters;
  • Developing sustained long-term client relationships by continuously creating business expansion and business referral opportunities;
  • Managing client relationships and engagements with the highest level of integrity;
  • Providing clients with the highest level of consulting and advisory services; and
  • Turning client relationships into long-term personal relationships so clients have the perspective of viewing the firm’s services as invaluable.

2. Technical capabilities and distinctions:

  • Being recognized as a go-to person for technical competence and quality that is sought internally and externally;
  • Developing technical excellence in others;
  • Having an acute sense of risk assessment and risk management;
  • Staying abreast of industry developments and professional standards; and
  • Attracting business based on expertise and demonstrating the ability to monetize that expertise.

3. Personal attributes:

  • Demonstrating integrity in actions (e.g., if faced with a challenge where they strongly disagree with a partner, raising that issue with the firm’s management);
  • Demonstrating a strong team orientation that recognizes the importance of creating and leading highly effective work teams;
  • Instilling a culture of client service excellence;
  • Driving others to see the importance of helping their team members ensure professional development and client service;
  • Earning the respect of partners and team members;
  • Creating a positive first impression;
  • Contributing or leading an important firm, office or practice area initiative;
  • Demonstrating a commitment to quality in everything done (including services performed, work products, staff evaluations and leadership commitments);
  • Demonstrating the resilience and agility to operate in dynamic environments; and
  • Maintaining composure and managing stress during times of intense pressure while successfully managing staff and meeting client delivery expectations.

4. Staff development:

  • Leading teams and demonstrating effectiveness in mentoring and coaching;
  • Attracting great talent and, through sustained development, turning above average players into “A” players;
  • Serving as a role model;
  • Being a team player and taking part in firm activities, with a genuine willingness to help out; and
  • Being recognized as being a part of the “glue” that keeps the firm, office or practice area together.

5. Business development:

  • Originating new business (brand-new client relationships that are not current clients) in an amount established by the firm as a minimum threshold;
  • Demonstrating the ability to cross-sell and expand business in a consistent fashion over several years;
  • Contributing to or participating in writing articles, speaking engagements or networking forums;
  • Effectively networking; listening for the opportunity and closing a sale;
  • Maintaining a strong network that generates leads and converts those leads into business;
  • Sustaining a track record of developing new opportunities for the firm;
  • Being an active leader in various associations and business groups and regularly attending industry and community meetings;
  • Contributing to the growth culture of the firm by prioritizing practice development and communicating this priority to others to help build practice development skills;
  • Continually expanding existing client opportunities by cross-selling other services and service providers; and
  • Being "famous" for introducing other firm resources/expertise to existing client relationships.

6. Office leadership and firm management:

  • Making a significant contribution to the management of an office or practice area;
  • Demonstrating the ability to think strategically, have a big picture or long view, and being instrumental in driving firm strategies;
  • Thinking and acting in a "Firm First” mindset;
  • Identifying and retaining top talent by championing a performance-driven culture;
  • Building rapport with colleagues and staff;
  • Consistently striving to increase one's level of responsibility, not content with the status quo; and
  • Consistently displaying a high level of integrity that is apparent in interactions with colleagues and staff.

7. Communications:

  • Possessing strong written and oral communication skills;
  • Demonstrating that communication skills are solid and enable meaningful “connections” with others through engaging conversational and listening approaches;
  • Having strong presentation skills when meeting with clients and potential clients; and
  • Possessing the ability to network with others.

8. Administrative responsibilities:

  • Adhering to firm administrative policies such as timely client billing and collecting;
  • Attending and participating in firm meetings, and office and practice area events;
  • Responding in a timely way to requests for information, evaluations, billing, time and expense entry, etc.; and
  • Creating a positive influence in the office.

No doubt about it: Developing future partners is hard work, but it has to be done by the managing partners and other senior partners in small and midsized CPA firms — the owners of the business. It is necessary to give every opportunity to an up and coming superstar to develop the competencies referred to above. It’s also important to make sure the leaders of the firm take partner candidates under their wings.

Show them the ropes by example. Take them out on sales calls. Help them develop relationships with influencers of business and get to know them personally. The more “glue” between a partner candidate and the senior partners in the firm, the greater the chance that the potential superstar will develop into one of the leaders who perpetuates the firm into the future.

For reprint and licensing requests for this article, click here.
Partnerships Professional development Practice management Business development Client relations