Partners are too busy to do anything but get work out the door during tax season. Or so they say. Over the years I’ve informally surveyed thousands of partners, and the majority believe less than half their work hours are devoted to what they consider to be “partner-level activities.”
The reasons are as varied as the individuals. For some partners, grinding through staff-level work brings them cozily back to their comfort zone. Some still don’t trust the quality of subordinates’ work. Others are short-staffed and don’t believe there is anyone who can take on the work. And for some, prioritizing the highest and best use of their non-billable time can devolve into “what can I check off my to-do list?” Too often, that work is not a partner-level activity that will help the firm move forward.
For all the discussions about pushing work down, these informal survey results haven’t changed – the percentage of partner-level activity hasn’t shifted over the years. It certainly hasn’t shifted at all in the two years since I wrote a Platt’s Perspective on this very topic. Everyone is just too busy to do something that, if done right, will make them less busy. That’s some crazy logic.
As you enter into yet another tax season, consider this tactic to consciously change course: swap out 30 minutes a day of “doing” for 30 minutes of coaching. Identify the work you know you shouldn’t be doing, identify someone who could take it on, and spend 30 minutes with them to review how best to get the task done. There is “mentor” time, there is “learn” time, there is “do” time and there is “monitor” time. Yes, it is true that the first couple of times you do this, you and your protégé may spend more time on the activities involved in mentoring, learning, doing and monitoring. But quickly you can go from 30 minutes of doing to 30 minutes of mentoring to 30 minutes of monitoring. Then 20 minutes of monitoring. Then 10 minutes of monitoring. Then it’s just a quick review and the work is off your plate for someone else to get done.
You will have succeeded in not only delegating work and knowing it can be done, but you will also have empowered a subordinate who, with your help, has just added a skill to their growing repertoire.
When you can swap out 30 minutes a day of “doing” in exchange for 10 minutes of “reviewing,” you’ll ultimately recover many hours over a year, raise your percentage of time doing partner-level activities, build a stronger team, and maybe even find time to take off a couple of days to go on a vacation with the family.