Identifying Staff to Fill the Partner Pipeline
Well first, congratulations! If you’re at a juncture where you are considering ways to fill the partner pipeline that means you’re expanding your business, planning on enjoying a fulfilling retirement or, better yet, thinking about developing your firm’s sustainability. Firm perpetuation is a remarkable accomplishment.
When identifying staff to fill the partner pipeline, first take a good look in the mirror at your existing partner line. Then inventory their skills to identify strengths and gaps. Then acknowledge the future. The ultimate goal is to identify your “now” people, your “have yet to get” people and your “future starters” (those that are likely still in school).
Who you are as a partner or as a team of partners is likely the most valuable tool used to identify staff that can fill your shoes. Let’s take, for example, a technically well-rounded partner that brings in a significant amount of business in construction niche work. Would you replace that partner with a tax specialist? Not really a fit, right? What about a sole practitioner who is a tax attorney and is known for cranking out hundreds of high-net-worth tax returns and trusts and estates; perhaps the audit supervisor is ready for that role? NOT. Compare apples to apples, and what you don’t have you must get.
Develop a chart and write down the following:
- Educational background — not the school, but rather the degrees, certifications and credentials
- Area of accounting or service provided — audit, tax, law, general accounting, consulting
- Niche specialties that require industry knowledge — construction, manufacturing, forensic, valuation, not-for-profit, real estate
- Soft skills — selling, mentoring, teaching, writing, reviewing, public speaking
- Community reach — organizations involved in, participating activities
- Firm involvement — committees, responsibilities, management, area of oversight
This is truly not a “this or that” list, but rather a “this and this” list. All six components are critical in replacing what you have with what you will have. What if you had an audit partner that trained the entire workforce and replaced her with an audit partner that had no patience to train others? While you would be replacing one critical piece, you would also be losing an equally important role at a top level and potentially increasing firm spend to hire trainers. There are times when you simply cannot replace certain aspects of the six components equivocally with just one person. Let this be the exception and not the rule, but plan ahead and set aside enough time for the pipeline to train up in those missing pieces.
Often, the pipeline is filled with technically sound candidates, yet they lack soft skills like selling or mentoring. These are very teachable skills if staff members are given these opportunities early enough in their career. Half the battle with filling pipeline is dedicating the time to develop staff properly. The skills that are lacking are a direct reflection of what was not provided to them along their rise to the top.
When identifying the need to replace a high-level role, look to three places: your bench (your now haves), your existing employees who lack certain skills (your have to gets) and your future talent to be recruited. Your bench is only as brilliant as you allow it to be. If all you feed your staff are technical challenges, you will grow technical people.. But if you want to grow a well-rounded employee, give them opportunities on all facets of engagements and let them use curious intellect to become a consultative business leader. If you wish to grow an educated sales force that can go out into the world and bring back new business, have them talk to clients, engage them in decision making, bring them to networking events and cultivate an environment that celebrates wins. A wise managing partner once said, “train your successor, for this is failproof.”
Sometimes you have to take a deep breath and believe that the person you are looking for hasn’t yet stepped foot into your firm. The generation that recently entered public accounting is promised to turn out dynamic leaders; we just have to exercise patience and find creative ways to get them to stay put. It is only when you identify what you will need to have and then work build it will you truly have a workforce that perpetuates itself and fills the partner pipeline. Until then if you only look to satisfy what you need at the time versus how you can sustain the future, you firm may be facing a purchase date or an expiration date rather than celebrating an anniversary.