Managing Partner Viewpoints from the Archives, Part I: Promoting Alignment, Parsing Advice

Managing Partner Viewpoints from the Archives, Part I: Promoting Alignment, Parsing Advice

While deep industry knowledge, technical expertise and the ability to bring in business are all de rigueur for MPs, today’s leaders must also have the skills to handle the messier challenges of a rapidly changing business environment.

This was among the many observations to emerge from the anonymous, candid responses of more than 70 MPs to a brief survey from INSIDE Public Accounting awhile back that shed welcome light on some of the most common frustrations and rewards they have experienced in the position. During this current period of uncertainty in the profession, their insights on two topics from that survey feel particularly relevant and instructive.

What one thing do you wish someone told you when you became MP about aligning the firm behind a common vision?

The Importance of Alignment

MPs aim to make a common, firmwide vision their guiding light, encouraging everyone to work toward the same goals and operate with the same values in mind. It’s a huge challenge, but one of the most important parts of the top job. Respondents generally agreed that alignment is the top priority for any MP. Most recommended to start articulating the firm’s vision on the first day, making it clear and compelling, ensuring it fits with the partners’ individual goals and compensation plans, and remaining vigilant.

These MPs also noted that over-communicating the vision and embodying that vision in every decision and action were crucial components of getting the message across. It’s a goal that one respondent said requires him to be “as much psychologist as MP some days.” Some of the other comments on alignment from MPs included:

“I wish they had told me that this would take time, and that simply saying it once or twice or communicating it in one or two presentations would not be enough. Alignment can be a 12- to 24-month process if done well, so patience is needed to carry this out.”

“Do it sooner rather than later. Lack of common vision is a really big deal; you may not think so, but it really is.”

“Many partners have their own agenda and goals in mind. It is challenging to try to get them to change their goals to ones that would be more beneficial to the overall good of the firm.”

“Partners will say they are behind a vision but watch what they do more than what they say.”

“Compensation structures drive behavior and must align with the vision. If they aren’t aligned, compensation structure will dictate behavior.”

“You will have competing interests at the firm and making sure everyone is aligned on a compelling and differentiating vision will move the firm forward as one. If there is no common vision, the firm will be a sub-par performer.”

When alignment works, respondents said the rewards are palpable. One MP expressed pleasure in seeing everyone “pulling in the same direction,” after a strategic planning process that involved input from all parts of the firm. The result? A newly energized team.

What one piece of advice did you receive about being MP that didn’t turn out to be true?

Differentiating Between Good and Bad Advice

Most MPs were given advice about taking on the top job that turned out to be untrue, while many were relieved that some of the warnings were unneeded. In other words, take most advice going in with a grain of salt, including some of the unfounded advice that our MPs encountered on their way to the top job (accompanied by their comments):

Expect to make more money – “That hasn’t occurred to my satisfaction.”

You can’t please everyone – “While that may be true, we can seek to build positive relationships with all and show them that we care about them.”

It’s a miserable job – “It’s hard, a lot of work and a lot of stress, but it’s not miserable.”

It gets easier – “Turns out, if you grow and merge practices, that is not true.”

You are the boss – “The opposite is really the truth – you work for the benefit of everyone in your firm.”

Dealing with employees is the most difficult part of the job – “Dealing with the partners is more work.”

Keep paying partners more and they’ll follow you – “Partners want increased compensation and the right to challenge leadership and direction.”

Young partners will never develop business like the senior partners – “Our young partners have risen up HUGE and helped take the firm to a much higher and profitable level once those senior partners finally retired.”

Many MPs wouldn’t change a thing, despite misperceptions, stresses and the difficult decisions required. One respondent said that the “visionary/entrepreneurial aspects of the MP role far outweigh the challenges. It is a great opportunity to lead and have a lot of fun learning from peers.” Another added that “I love it, find it rewarding and wouldn’t want to do anything else. It has some frustrating moments, but by far, I love being an entrepreneur and building on the legacy we have started to create.”

These are the types of positive thoughts about the position that MPs will do well to keep in mind as they navigate the challenging waters ahead.