Beyond Partner Accountability

PracticeManagementThere has been a significant amount of articles and discussions concerning partner accountability in the last 10 years. In addition, according to a recent AICPA survey, partner accountability has risen to the number one issue in CPA firms. So, why is it that so many firms struggle with this issue? Why is it that even after implementing an accountability-based system, many firms fail to get to the next level of success through higher degrees of partner performance and accountability?

CPA Partner Accountability

Traditionally, partner accountability programs were meant to provide guidance to partners in establishing and implementing their goals and objectives, and to be used as a measuring tool for performance and related compensation criteria. However, the solution to achieving greater levels of firm and partner success extends beyond partner accountability. Here are some examples:

  • “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.”—Jack Welch.  The same is true in accounting firms: the best accountability system will be useless if a firm does not have a winning partner team. A firm cannot win with the team they need, but do not have. Demanding that partners be accountable for performance that they are not capable of achieving will only delay inevitable failure.
  • Partner accountability is flawed from the start in firms that do not provide the proper infrastructure for marketing, HR, and IT to support the partner’s goals and objectives. Investing in infrastructure is a prerequisite to holding partners accountable for higher levels of performance each year.
    The most fundamental of all management skills is delegation: getting things done through others.
  • Partners need the appropriate number of talented staff to delegate tasks and projects, whether they are professional staff or administrative staff. The ability to effectively use delegation will lead to higher levels of partner performance.
  • It is important to have strong leadership that has the ability to make tough decisions for ensuring that partners are a united, synchronized group that is capable of achieving the goals and objectives of the firm. 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.
  • Place more emphasis with the “end” in mind, rather than annual accountability criteria with no clear endgame. Each partner should have a personal mission statement including a defined path to meaningful and profit driven results, as each partner’s abilities and passion to succeed are unique.

Accountability means more than taking individual initiative. It means that we are responsible for our actions and how they affect our business partners and team members.