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By Dave Kuhlman and Mark Masson

When a firm’s partners aren’t pulling in the same direction, everything seems to be harder. But when they are, that firm can be unstoppable. Fully formed professionals share a broad range of expertise and experience. Resources and support for professional innovation and personal development create real value. There’s a strong sense of affiliation and pride.

Exploiting this powerful advantage relies on three vital elements: trust, ownership and alignment. Unfortunately, however, trust among the partners is not always as strong as it should be. Too few partners are behaving with a sense of ownership. There is less alignment on goals and values. Leaders often sense challenges to the trust, ownership and alignment of the Partnership when Partners’ questioning of management decisions grows, when Partners’ internal focus increases, or there is continual slippage in executing strategy beyond the core management team.

Uncomfortable as it can be, understanding the sources of these challenges is a critical first step towards solving them. We find that Partners truly appreciate the opportunity to be heard, and that leaders are listening. The process itself provides value.

For example, a confidential survey of the Partners, asking 30-40 topical questions, can provide the data for an accurate diagnosis. Collecting additional open-ended input can capture nuances and deeper insight about the “whys” of their responses. Here are a few of the questions that the partnership should be addressing every few years:

Trust

  • How does the firm’s management seek to understand the needs of the partners?
  • How transparent is the decision-making process, particularly with decisions that affect individual Partners themselves?
  • How does the firm ensure that Partner contributions are evaluated consistently and accurately across the partnership?

Ownership

  • What opportunities do Partners have to participate in meaningful discussions with management about strategy and service delivery?
  • What steps does the firm take to ensure that Partners consistently behave with an owner’s mentality?
  • How and how often does management demonstrate that the input received is seriously considered?

Alignment

  • Does each Partner understand what they must do as individuals to help the firm achieve its strategic goals?
  • How well do leaders from different practices, regions and offices collaborate and get things done?To what extent do the Partners behave in ways that are consistent with the firm’s values?

Time for a Check-Up?

It is often better to ask than to assume. Even well-intentioned leaders can be blind to the signals they send or the hidden barriers to greater trust, alignment and ownership. Obvious things like revenue growth, profitability and internal initiatives are far easier to measure than the basic forces that can either enable them, or make them impossible.

We hope these questions help you think about ways of sustaining the long-term health of your firm.

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