Partnership: Competence Is Just the Foot in the Door

Businessman in an umbrella sails in storm in the nightSailing through the 7 C's to partnership may be harder than you think.

By Martin Bissett
Passport to Partnership

Staffers aspiring to be partners must learn the key characteristics of successful partners. They also must learn how to develop their own personal plans to achieve partnership. Firms and staffers alike need a clear set of procedures, processes and milestones for turning top talent into the next generation of firm leadership.

MORE ON THE PASSPORT TO PARTNERSHIP: Key Advice for Potential Partners | Surviving Vs. Thriving | What Does the Next Generation of Practice Leaders Face? | Commitment: A Cautionary Tale | How to Build Your Pipeline | 6 Keys to the Perfect Proposal | Communication: It’s Not About You

There are seven critically important criteria by which partners assess partners-to-be. I call them:

The Seven C's

1. The first is Competence. As a prerequisite, but only a prerequisite, accountants must master their technical abilities and qualifications, whether it be audit, tax or management accounting. Whatever your area of specialty, as a staffer the partners expect you to be able to know at least as much as anyone else who may report to you.

2. The second is Culture. This is your ability to understand why the practice does things the way it does, and the behaviors it expects of its people. It also reflects your ability to be an ambassador for the firm in public.

3. Communication. This includes your internal managerial abilities, external client, "influencer" relationship-building skills, and the discernment to be non-partisan in politically sensitive situations. It's about demonstrating self-assurance without ego.

4. Conversion. This is a major requirement of the 21st-century accountant: the ability to source, develop, close and grow a new or existing client relationship. This quality is developed incrementally over time.

5. Challenges. This boils down to loyalty, how and when it’s shown and what happens to a person’s career prospects in the firm when it isn’t demonstrated at a key time.

6. Commitment. What happens when a colleague has made a huge mistake, and the client is about to find out? Worse still, what happens when that colleague is a partner? What happens when a client needs you now? How you react to challenges says a lot about your maturity and how you would handle firmwide issues as a partner, given the chances.

7. Commercial awareness. This is the second great attribute of the 21st-century accountant. Being a competent technician is one thing, but partners are people who run large organizations that just so happen to deliver accounting services. They must deal with issues well beyond accountancy:

  • How are we going to meet the payroll this month?
  • How do we get all this WIP freed up, billed and collected?
  • Why are Johnny and his team running up huge expenses that cut into his department’s profitability and bring the whole average down?
  • How are this year’s figures going to look to the bank when we want to ask them to increase our borrowing to fund the planned expansion?

If you want to become a partner yourself, you must have the commercial awareness to understand what a partner in your firm goes through on a day-to-day basis.

Let's get started!

As an exercise, fill in each section to establish your starting point for career growth.

Your ambitions:

1. What are your career ambitions for the next one to five years? (type of projects worked on, niche specialties developed, free time available etc.)

  • Earnings ambitions
  • Life balance ambitions

2. Achievements to obtain (make partner, start own firm, be recognized for my work, get involved with charity work etc.)

3. Why do you want to achieve these things specifically? (Try finishing this sentence: The most motivational reason is…)

4. The impact of not achieving these things is…

5. What will you and those closest to you feel like when you’ve achieved them? How will that day play out?

Your financial outline:

1. One year from today, what figure would you like your annual salary to have reached?

2. What is your current salary and how long have you been at that level?

3. What justification could you give to your firm to support the required increase? (currently underpaid compared to peer level elsewhere, in line with rate of inflation, advance against future business brought in etc.)

4. What additional return on investment could you demonstrate to justify the increase (extra responsibility, removal of headaches from partner’s workload, self-investment in rainmaking training etc.)

5. Based on these parameters, what do you need to do before you can be successful in achieving this raise?

6. What areas of weakness have you identified that you need to put right before justifying this raise? And what is your plan for doing so and by when?

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