Becoming the partner of tomorrow
The "Five Lands" model describes a metaphorical journey that all accounting firm leaders and partners should go through to upskill themselves and cultivate the skills of tomorrow.
This model is based on cutting-edge theories on the plasticity of the brain, the future of business and leadership in the era of complexity. It is also based on interviews with dozens of partners from Big Four firms, senior partners, CEOs, C-suite members, HR leaders, learning and development leaders, and professors from various universities and faculties, as well as on the writer's own experience in implementing change management processes in different industries, mainly in the professional services industry.
This article is based on my book, "Riding the White-Water Rapids, the Story of My Success at KPMG," which presents the guidelines for the success of accountants and advisors in a complicated world that is changing before our very eyes, deep into the 21st century.
The first land that partners will need to explore is based on the theory developed by Professor Carol Dweck of Stanford University, and her book "Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, in which she describes two different types of mindsets: a fixed mindset and a growth mindset.
Partners who hold a fixed mindset assume that our character, talents, intelligence and creative ability are static givens that are unchangeable in any meaningful way. Therefore, they tend to stay in their comfort zone and resist any change or personal development process. These partners will figure out soon that their personal value proposition is depreciating.
On the other hand, partners who hold a growth mindset believe their most basic abilities are not fixed and can be developed through dedication and hard work. They enjoy challenges and see failure not as evidence of unintelligence but as a springboard for growth and for stretching their abilities. These partners are willing to step out of their comfort zones, put in the effort, and practice and develop new skills and competencies. As a result, they will invent and reinvent themselves and retain their own winning personal value proposition.
A growth mindset is a prerequisite for success in a new reality where change has become the new normal.
The second land that partners will need to explore is based on the theories of brain function lateralization, the physical division of the brain into two hemispheres, each characterized by different functions. Although considered to be largely metaphorical in nature, the model is an effective way of describing and understanding different thinking styles and decision-making patterns, which complement each other.
In contrast to the 20th century, in which success belonged to those who displayed strong left-brain skills (either repetitive or technical experts' tasks, which are now rapidly being taken over by computers and big data technologies), success now requires using both parts of the brain and, in particular, right-brain related abilities.
In the new era of the workplace we all need to use the whole brain and be "artgineers" — both engineers and artists — critical and strategic thinkers, analytical and methodological (engineers), yet also intuitive, visionary, creative, relationship-driven and passionate (artists).
The successful partners of tomorrow will be those who are driven by a vision, who are inspirational and intuitive leaders, who are creative, innovative and impactful, and who look at the bigger picture and connect the dots — the artistic type. In doing so, they will be able to provide their clients with a winning value proposition and be more and more in demand.
The third land that partners will need to explore is based on emotional intelligence. While in the 20th century emotional intelligence was only perceived as "nice to have" and sometimes even frowned upon, it is nowadays a critical element of personal and professional success. Overall, it is a set of social and emotional skills that enables optimal action, which leads to desirable results: individual and group effectiveness, synergy, the recognition of challenges and the ways to address them.
In the new era of the workplace, the ability to understand one's own emotions and those of others, to adapt in a fast-changing reality, to show determination while facing growing challenges in a competitive world, and to lead with both head and heart, are crucial for partners' personal and organizational success in a disruptive and turbulent reality.
Working with automation, big data and artificial intelligence will not eliminate the human factor. Just the opposite! The leading firms of the future will be those that create a culture of augmented intelligence: the best partnership between people and artificial intelligence.
The fourth land that partners will need to explore relates to our ability to “stay on the boat” when at risk of falling into the gushing whitewater rapids of the new era of the workplace. It is based on the work of several thought leaders (Martin Seligman, Joanna Barsh and Susie Cranston) on the topic of well-being, optimism and career success in a changing, complex and dynamic reality. In our model, sustainability consists of five components:
- Higher purpose: The partners of tomorrow will need a strong sense of purpose. These partners will no longer assess their success based on traditional factors alone, such as financial performance or the quality of their products or services. They will have a strong feeling that their personal success is also based on their positive influence on all their stakeholders: team members, clients, shareholders and society at large. This sense of meaning will help them to overcome most of the obstacles and stay on the boat.
- Optimism and positive framing: Optimism is a crucial ability in the ever-changing reality characterized by obstacles. Optimism plays a role in almost every aspect of partners’ professional lives, regardless of their fields of specialization: when facing clients, colleagues, superiors or subordinates, as well as when leading organizational change management processes or innovative processes.
- Social capital: This dimension relates to partners' ability to put time and effort into building significant networks and creating meaningful relationships with people from different groups. Studies indicate that people who have strong social networks and good mentors tend to progress faster, earn more and be more satisfied with their careers.
- Proactive career management: Partners of the future will need to develop the skills of the future. In the era of the smart machine, they will need to pinpoint the skills necessary to continue and succeed, and take full ownership of their career management.
- Wellbeing: Partners of the future will focus on their mental, emotional, physical and spiritual health. They will methodically invest in their wellbeing by creating actions and habits on a regular basis.
The final land symbolizes the partners' ability to create new lands using the skills and competencies they acquired in their personal journeys. In the new era of the workplace, partners will need to invent and reinvent themselves in order to provide their employees, clients and society at large with a winning value proposition:
- Professionally: Partners will need to understand what their profession is going to look like and to put time and effort into developing the set of necessary skills.
- Clients: Partners will need to understand how the new era of the workplace is going to change their clients' lives, needs, industries and strategies, and provide them with a winning value proposition from all departments within the firm.
- Employees: Partners will need to support their employees in their personal journey in the five lands, helping them to acquire a growth-mindset attitude and the skills of the future, and maintain their employability.
- Society at large: Partners will need to combine growth and profit with support for society at large: protect the markets, invest in making lives of less fortunate people better and shape the future of the society in which the firm is operating.