Partners Get on the Same Page!

Improve partner relationships and watch your firm performance and profits soar!

I hear a very common concern from the employees in many firms that I have visited. “The partners are not on the same page. In fact many of the partners openly disagree or criticize other partners”. Now let me ask you, if you were an employee in this firm how would you feel? Maybe a little fearful, concerned about the future and how partner differences might have a negative impact on your career? These thoughts can lead to feelings of insecurity and stress and if the feelings become too great maybe a job search will be in order. Your staff will leave if they think their future is threatened or in question at your firm and not only that, they will not give your clients the level of service you expect. Remember the old saying, “Happy people work better than unhappy people”, it applies to employees as well as partners.

I have surveyed well in excess of a thousand partners and I have discovered a direct correlation between the level of trust among partners and the profitability in their firm. If the level of trust and respect among the partners is high the profitability also is high and just the opposite is true when trust and respect are low. You are probably thinking this just seems like common sense but if this is case why is it so hard to accomplish? After giving this some thought I have come to the conclusion that many partner relationships are somewhat conditional based upon profitability and income.

If they are making money then they will trust and respect you. Absent that, they will withhold judgment and question your motives. Peak performance is difficult to achieve when partners as well as employees do not have absolute confidence in the leadership, direction and performance of the firm.

If you would like to change these perceptions I think there are deliberate steps that can be taken to remove these conditional barriers to your success. Doing business as usual with many paying lip service to the issues will not facilitate change. A leadership and culture intervention is the place to start.

Improve the Culture and Relationships in Your Firm

  1. Hold a Partner Summit-I call this a summit as it is about firm strategy at the very highest level to stress the sense of urgency and importance of these matters. This is not about the “soft” stuff; it is about the “smart” stuff. The important stuff that really makes you money.

    1. Adopt a partner “Code of Conduct”-Typical subjects include behavior, time and billing requirements, scheduling and resource management and adherence with systems and processes. After approving a Code of Conduct it must be supported by leadership. If the partners will not follow the rules is it realistic to think the employees will? Partners must “walk their talk”.

    2. Adopt or reemphasize your firm core values-When I read many core value statements I find them overly complex and not followed in the day to day practice. Pick 3 or 4 non-negotiable core values and live them every day, no exceptions. Once adopted the core values must be adhered to by both partners and employees otherwise many individuals will lose faith in the partners’ ability to govern the practice.

  2. Invite your senior through manager personnel to a “leadership summit” to inform them of the policies and rules that have been adopted and solicit their input to gain support and ideas for implementation. This is a very important step! In many instances I have seen partners try to implement these policies without the support of management only to subsequently have the effort fail.

    1. Include your management team in the solution by letting them have a stake in the outcome. (i.e. How the policies will be applied in the practice and how they can help with the implementation)

    2. Many firms have included support of these policies and core values as a component part of their evaluation process. This let’s everyone in the firm know that you are serious about improving the culture in the firm.

  3. Hold a firm wide meeting to announce the new initiatives and then develop a program to keep the word out among your employees. In order to be effective these matters must be continually reinforced.

Partner accountability and unity was listed as the #1 concern in the 2011 PCPS survey of firms. This is a huge issue in the profession. Take some action now to improve partner and staff relationships and watch 2012 be the best year ever!

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