Voices

The missing piece: The partner’s talent management mindset

The Big Four accounting firms have never been as concerned with the future of their workforce as they are today.

As many of us already know, the challenge of disruptive technologies will make tomorrow’s professional services workforce unrecognizable. Yet, most top firm leaders focus mainly on business models, clients' value proposition and disruptive technology. Most of those firms hardly invest quality time in developing their firm's talent strategy, particularly when it comes to their own partners.

Senior partners and heads of sectors should remember that in this new reality, in which big data and robots will do most of the repetitive work, the partner of the future will need to be flexible, purpose-driven, entrepreneurial, creative, customer-centric, cooperative and a lifelong learner. Top leaders in all Big Four firms should know that the future of their firm mainly depends on their ability to attract, retain and develop the right type of partners: talented people who are able to build a winning culture, which is the competitive advantage in the new era of the workplace.

Building such a culture will enable leaders and employees within the firm to invent and reinvent themselves and provide a winning value proposition for current and future clients. To do so, partners will first need to invest time and effort in self-development and upskill themselves, become inspirational leaders and lead by example. Unfortunately, many partners do not realize it yet and stick to their old habits, which are mainly connected to the delivery aspect of their work and technical skills. Partners should go through a mindset shift in relation to their own positions and their personal value propositions. Cultivating the skills of tomorrow takes time and effort, and there are no shortcuts. But that’s the only way to continue to succeed and remain relevant.

Executive committees and partners must take this journey more seriously. They should build a talent strategy and invest time and effort in self and group development. Only by going through this journey will firms be able to prepare their entire workforce for the new era and become the firms of tomorrow.

The most important elements to consider regarding an upskilling program are:

• It should be connected to the future of accountants and consultants.

• It should be shaped and designed based on the new reality.

• It should be based on research and practice.

• It should present one inclusive conceptual framework of skills for the new era of the workplace for accountants and consultants.

• It should be possible to develop the whole set of skills in this framework at any age and rank.

• It should provide tools to measure the leaders' and partners' abilities in these skills (both personally and organizationally).

• It should be tailormade to the firm's story and culture.

• It should be tailormade to the various departments within the firm — audit, tax, advisory, etc.

• It should be tailormade to each position within the firm.

• It should be connected to the strategy of the firm.

• It should be connected to the leaders' and employees' abilities to provide a winning value proposition to clients.

• It should be capable of becoming an in-house training program, delivered by trained internal staff (for cost effectiveness purposes).

About eight years ago, understanding the situation described above we developed a model and a program to support firms and partners in their journey. The Five-Lands model, presented in the book Riding the White-Water Rapids, the Story of My Success at KPMG, describes a metaphorical journey that all leaders and partners in the Big Four should go through in order to cultivate the skills of tomorrow and provide a winning value proposition to their employees, clients and society at large.

Five Lands Map