Many firm leaders we work with face a common challenge: senior partners are retiring, and they don’t have a deep bench of up-and-coming leaders trained and ready to take their place. Creating this succession plan doesn’t happen by accident. It requires identifying and developing future firm partners to be technically skilled, adept at communication, and capable of solving problems, developing business and leading teams.
So let’s delve into the essential characteristics that define a successful partner and discuss strategies to cultivate these traits, ensuring the firm’s growth and sustainability through its next generation of leaders.
Why developing future partners is essential
In most firms, the traditional path to partner took well over a decade, and the decision process was shrouded in mystery. Today, talented professionals aren’t willing to wait and see what’s in store for them five, ten, or fifteen years out. If you want to stay competitive and hold on to your rising stars, you must show them the path to reach their goals and support them on the journey.
This isn’t just a feel-good exercise. It’s vital to the future success of your firm for several reasons:
As current partners retire or move on, having a pipeline of capable future partners ensures continuity and stability in the firm. It’s a strategic approach to maintaining leadership and expertise within the firm.
Infusing new capital
New partners often bring in fresh capital, essential for the firm’s growth and expansion. This influx of resources can invigorate the firm with new energy and opportunities.
Acquiring new expertise or skills
Each new partner can bring unique skills or expertise, diversifying the firm’s capabilities and services. This diversity can be a significant competitive advantage.
Retaining the best talent
Offering a clear path to partnership is a powerful way to retain top talent. It demonstrates a commitment to career growth and recognizes the value of the individual’s contributions.
Spreading risk and expenses
Having multiple partners allows for the distribution of financial risks and operational expenses. This shared responsibility can lead to more sustainable and prudent management of the firm.
Qualities of a successful partner
Over the years, Boomer Consulting, Inc. has identified 20 attributes of a successful partner. Consider each of these characteristics in yourself or other partners in your firm, scoring on a scale of one to five for each, with five being the highest score.
- Vision – gets and promotes the firm’s vision
- Big thinker – focuses on growth and improvement
- Builds a team of the best people
- Lifelong Learning – reads and grows consistently
- Edge – can make a decision
- Focus – able to focus on the “big rocks”
- Not afraid of risk – manages risk well
- High energy
- Focuses on client dangers, opportunities and strengths
- Delegation – leverages firm resources
- Willing to make personal sacrifice
- Trust – gives and receives trust
- Learns from failure
- Avoids procrastination
- Positive motivator
- Shares the credit
- Values sales and marketing
- Understands and drives the firm’s economic engine
- Holds self and others accountable
The maximum score is 100, and the minimum is 20. How do you and other members of your current leadership group stack up?
Developing future partners
When developing future partners in your firm, it’s crucial to recognize that by the time an individual is being considered for partnership, they’ve likely mastered the technical aspects of their job. The real focus, therefore, should shift towards enhancing the core success skills of a successful partner.
Here’s how to encourage and cultivate these vital attributes:
- Emphasize objectives and goals. Clearly communicate the firm’s objectives and goals. Future partners should understand what these goals are and how their role contributes to achieving them. This alignment ensures that their efforts support the firm’s direction.
- Set expectations early. Early in their career path, potential partners should be aware of the expectations for a partner role. This includes not just performance metrics but also behavioral and leadership standards.
- Make future leaders accountable. Accountability is key in leadership. By giving potential partners responsibilities that challenge them, firms can foster a sense of ownership and responsibility for outcomes, preparing them for the accountability that comes with the partnership.
- Give meaningful feedback. Constructive and regular feedback is vital for growth. This feedback should highlight areas for improvement and recognize achievements and strengths, guiding them toward the desired behaviors.
- Leverage motivation. Understanding what motivates each individual is crucial. Whether it’s challenging projects, financial incentives, work-life balance or professional recognition, leveraging these motivators can significantly enhance engagement and performance.
- Make it measurable. Setting measurable goals and benchmarks for soft skills can be challenging, but it’s important. This could involve client satisfaction scores, team performance metrics, or leadership effectiveness assessments.
Developing future partners is a significant investment of time and energy, but it’s crucial if you want to have talented leaders to take your firm forward.
Start identifying potential partners early and help them build their success skills and leadership qualities. When you make that investment, you can help ensure your future partners are competent and well-rounded leaders who can drive the firm toward long-term success.
Sandra Wiley is president of Boomer Consulting, Inc.