Get your firm pulling together
By RoBeRt J. Lees and august J. aquiLa
Your partners need to commit — and so does the whole firm
Our advice on how to resolve the performance issue comes from our work over the
last 20 years in all sizes of firms across Europe,
the U.S. and Canada, and confirms what we
all intuitively know — the more the partners
are engaged in the firm’s future, the better
they perform. So, before you can work on
performance, you need to work on getting
your partners involved and committed to the
firm’s future. Partners won’t be committed
to the future if they haven’t had any involvement in deciding what it should be. And if
they aren’t committed, they essentially work
for themselves, not the firm.
Partners are the culture in a professional
services firm — what they believe, what they
reward, what they do, and how they do it determines what and how things get done. And
if they don’t believe in what the firm is doing,
they will never be effective role models who
think of the firm first and actively bring the
whole of the firm’s services to their clients.
4. Ineffective or nonexistent partner performance reviews.
5. Performance systems not tied to strategic initiatives.
6. Lack of successful firm leaders.
Most firms consider these six challenges to
be merely “touchy-feely” aspects of running
a professional services firm. They take time
to implement, and the common response is,
“We have clients to serve and this stuff just
detracts us from our real job.” But unless you
embrace these challenges and get your partners actively engaged and performing for
the firm and its future, you may find yourself
without clients and a viable future.
1. Un-motivational firm vision. More
firms now have a vision and a strategy in the
hope of engaging partners and employees
— but the partners aren’t always involved in
their creation and often don’t buy in to the
vision. This can be because the vision isn’t
compelling enough or because the partners
are more interested in their own practice,
rather than a real firm. This type of professional services firm is usually referred to as a
“siloed” firm and never succeeds in bringing
the full capabilities of the firm to bear.
A vision tells us what we want to be in the
future, not what we are today. Perhaps we
have a vision of being a cross-border accounting firm. The problem with most visions is
that they do not provide a powerful picture
of what the firm will look like five, 10 or more
years from now. Most visions are neither motivating nor audacious. And often they lack a
larger sense of purpose. Do partners understand and see what the end game looks like?
Do they think they are putting steel girders together or building a bridge? Building a bridge
is more inspiring than just welding girders
together. Visions must be compelling. They
have to create excitement and enthusiasm,
and engage the partners and employees.
2. Lack of clearly defined core values.
Most partners we know can’t recite their
firm’s core values. That’s a problem. A more
serious problem is that the list of core values
you often find on the firm’s Web site doesn’t
no one would ever question that a firm’s success is ultimately
tied to its partners’ performance. and yet improving partner
performance and getting the partners to work across practices
are the key issues facing the majority of firm leaders we talk to.
In our work, we have identified six major
challenges that firms need to address to engage their partners and ensure that everyone
moves forward together. They are:
1. Un-motivational firm vision.
2. Lack of clearly defined core values.
3. Lack of clarity around what being a partner means.
Rob Lees is a founding partner of Moller
PSFG Ltd ( www.mollerpsfgcambridge.
com), a consultant to professional service
firm leaders worldwide, and co-author of
When Professionals Have to Lead. Reach
him at rob.lees@mollerpsfgcambridge.
com. August Aquila is an internationally
known speaker, consultant and writer, chief
executive of Aquila Global Advisors (www.
aquilaadvisors.com), and co-author of
Compensation as a Strategic Asset and
Client at the Core. Reach him at aaquila@
aquilaadvisors.com or (952) 930-1295.
© 2012 Rob Lees and August Aquila. All
mean anything. Core values should define
the parameters of partner and employee behavior. They should provide guidance on how
individuals in the firm are supposed to act.
Core values are much more than minimum
standards. They inspire those in the firm to
do their very best at all times. They are the
common bond and the glue that unifies and
ties the firm together. Each firm, first, needs
to identify its core values. Next, they need to
be defined. Finally, partners and employees
have to identify representative behaviors and
live them every day.
3. Lack of clarity around what being a
partner means. There are a lot of different
reasons to make someone a partner: unique
talent, need to fill a position, succession planning, etc. What many firms lack today is clarity around what being a partner means.
The following characteristics are found in
those firms that have embraced a one-firm
concept. Their partners:
;Put the firm first;
;Are team players, not lone wolves or
;Live the firm’s values;
;Share their clients with others;
;Are accountable for their own actions and
don’t pass the buck;
Go out of their way to help others;
;Have staff who want to work with them;
;Have the highest degree of personal integrity;
;Treat others with respect;
;Can laugh at themselves; and,
;Are willing to embrace change and stretch
outside of their comfort zone.
Only if partners are clear about what is
expected of them can firms expect them to
perform as the firm wants and needs — and
not how they want. It’s also key that the firm
reinforces what it wants by only making the
“right” people partners and taking action if
partners visibly ignore the firm’s values.
4. Ineffective or nonexistent partner performance reviews. Managing partners always ask us what it takes to achieve sustained,
consistent partner performance. While the
answer is easy — maybe simplistic — the
implementation is difficult for most firms.
To consistently get uplift in partner performance, it is necessary to have written annual
partner performance goals and an effective
performance management process. A survey
conducted in the U.S. by the PCPS Division of
the American Institute of CPAs found that 85
percent of the respondents did not have written goals for their partners. And 99 percent of
partners we know say that they do not have
an effective review.
You can’t expect a change in performance
if partners do the exact same thing they did
the previous year. You have to be clear about
what you want and make sure the partners
have the capabilities to deliver.
5. Performance systems not tied to strategic initiatives. It’s not necessarily the performance system itself that’s the issue, it is
what the system rewards that is critical. If your
system currently rewards entitlement criteria
(seniority, equity interest, etc.), then you can’t
be surprised if some partners don’t take accountability seriously, aren’t good citizens,
and don’t put the firm first.
However, if you reward partners for their
competency — their skills and their results
— as well as their integrity and intent, then
you can start moving toward a culture that
uplifts partner performance. If you are serious about rewarding those who help the firm
achieve its strategic initiatives and its vision,
then compensation must be tied to individual
and team results. The key for a good compensation system is to have a balance between
individual and team goals and between production and capacity-building goals.
6. Lack of successful firm leaders. Our
research over the past two years into what
successful firm leaders do identified what
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