How Do I Hold Partners Accountable?
More and more of my meetings with managing partners start like this: We have a strategic plan with specific goals and action items for our shareholders. But how do I hold partners accountable? How can I get everyone pulling together in the same direction, with the same enthusiasm and sense of urgency?
Here’s what they mean: How can we maintain our financial stability and grow accordinging to our plan if the partners and leaders of the firm are not held accountable for delivering on what they say they will do?
I generally answer their question with a question: Have the values and behaviors of the influential partners and leaders changed over the last several years? Do your partners values match the action items and goals in your plan?
Some thought leaders suggest that core values shouldn’t change and that the theory of why the firm exists (the “Theory of The Business”) must stay the same while strategy, tactics and processes change with the times. But how do you account for generational shifts in core values and the impact of the new legal industry business metrics?
Others advise that core business model changes require values and corresponding behaviors be adjusted, expectations managed, responsibilities revised. But how do you know if your partners’ values have changed because of trends impacting the legal industry, client demands or personal aspirations? Some actions and their impact are obvious like the unfortunate move to use PPP as the key metric in some firms. Others are subtler. Would you doubt that technology has changed everything? How many voice mails do you get today versus ten years ago? Faxes? Letters in the mail? Have your clients’ expectations around response time to their questions changed? Has your behavior managing clients’ expectations on response time changed?
Talk to the “kids” (under age 35) in the firm – Yes do lunch! Ask them about what they value, their career and life goals, motivations; what makes them proud, happy and frustrated. Although you want to focus on partners it’s also about the next generations’ values as well. They are part of your financial engine and, someday, a few of them will “inherit” your firm. Right now they are learning about work values based on what they “see” at work, i.e. the values and behaviors exhibited by partners and firm leaders.
Are the values you see exhibited in partners’ behaviors the same values and behaviors you believe the firm needs to achieve its desired success? To be competitive? To win in the marketplace? Can you stay competitive if the core group of leaders in the firm don’t share the same values? No, not in the long-term. And, worse, your strategy can’t be implemented, your tactics won’t work and you won’t be competitive unless the influencers, the people that everyone watches and emulates, are not together on the theory of why they stay together, what they value as partners in the firm and what contributions they agree to be accountable for to each other.
To create firm values everyone in the firm should subscribe to the same set of firm-wide success values – and be accountable to behave accordingly.
What to do? Start at the base. Conduct a values and behaviors assessment. There are lots of tools out there. The key is an assessment that is short, to the point and will get the conversation started. The firm’s leaders must be involved to get the highest possible response rate.
Work with an advisor who can administer and interpret a simple online values survey: What are the personal values of the partners, senior partners, practice group leaders, executive committee and managing partner? You should also consider surveying the associates and staff as they impact the firm’s culture as well. Ask about the values and behaviors they see in the firm today. Then ask what values and behaviors need to be exhibited in the future for the firm to succeed. Compare the differences. None? Great, everyone is rowing in the same direction with the same intensity and desire to win. But if the future values and behaviors are significantly different than existing firm values and behaviors, you need to put a program in place to reconcile the differences, resolve the contradictions and work on those values that will drive the firm forward.
Values matter. They drive the behaviors exhibited by the firm leaders to other partners, your staff, clients, outside lawyers, judges and perspective hires. If you are going to win in today’s world, it is imperative that everyone is on the same values page because that’s where the path to accountability begins.
This perspective is part of what we do at Catapult Growth Partners. Interested in finding out more? Click here to set up a complimentary call to discuss how your firm’s culture impacts your strategy.
Steve Daitch has more than 35 years of experience developing focused strategic insights resulting in upside growth for professional services firms and legal industry companies around the world. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 619–578–8000.