Beyond Partner Accountability

by Joe Tarasco, Accountants Advisory Group

The No. 1 issue in CPA firms today is partner accountability, according to a recent AICPA survey, and there have been no shortage of articles and discussions on the issue over the last five years. And yet, many firms continue to struggle. Why is it that even after implementing an accountability-based system many firms fail to achieve the next level of success through improved partner performance? Do firms use the lack of partner accountability as an excuse because they are in denial over the underlying problems that exist in their organizations?

Partner accountability programs are meant to guide partners in developing their goals and objectives and measure performance, not improve results. Achieving greater levels of firm and partner success extends beyond partner accountability. Here are some examples:

  • As Jack Welch said, “If you pick the right people and give them the opportunity to spread their wings and put compensation as a carrier behind it, you almost don’t have to manage them. The whole game of business revolves around one thing–you build the best team, you win.” The same is true in accounting firms. The best accountability system will be useless if a firm doesn’t have a winning partner team. Demanding that partners be accountable for performance that they are not capable of achieving is only delaying inevitable failure. This is a significant element in the denial syndrome at many firms that have plateaued.
  • Partner accountability is flawed from the start in firms that don’t provide the proper infrastructure for marketing, HR and IT to support the partner’s goals and objectives.
  • The most fundamental of all management skills is delegation. Partners need the appropriate number of talented staff, whether they are professionals or administrative staff. Effectively using delegation to achieve higher levels of partner performance is a significant factor in building a successful firm of the future.
  • Firms need strong leadership that has the ability to make tough decisions and is held accountable for ensuring that partners are a united, synchronized group that are capable of achieving the goals and objectives of the firm. Good leaders encourage investment in their firms and motivate their people to be passionate innovators to gain an edge on their competitors. Accounting firms that are willing to redefine themselves and how they operate in order to achieve higher levels of success understand the need for good leadership. Good leaders play to win, and that is often the difference between success and mediocrity.
  • Some partners possess natural talents to achieve the required performance competencies on their own. Nonetheless, all partners can benefit from a formal professional development training plan. This process should include structured and ongoing efforts to assess partners’ progress toward developing expected competencies. Partners can also benefit from regular reviews that tell them if the firm is satisfied with their progress during the year and what additional steps they need to take.

Put together a passionate, winning team with good leadership to take the firm to the next level of success. Don’t let partner accountability be the No. 1 issue in your firm.