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The Boomer Bulletin - 2013
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Wanted: A Managing Partner Who Meets All of Our Expectations!

Posted By Sandra Wiley, Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Visualize this scene. You are at your firm’s annual partner summit. The agenda item before the partner group is: Who will be our next managing partner? Some are shifting uncomfortably in their seats and looking at the floor. Others are staring at their peers in the room, waiting for someone else to say something… anything! One thing you probably won’t see is a plethora of partners in your firm raising their hands, jumping out of their chairs and resoundingly yelling "pick me!” The reason this is often such an uncomfortable situation is that no one in the group has a true understanding of the expectations of the position. Or maybe they realize that the expectations of every person in the room are different and there is no way for one person to meet all that will be expected. The bottom line is, there needs to be consensus among the group before a firm can choose and then support a leader. So, where do you start?

The Task Force
An important first step is to build a task force of individuals responsible for building the model and then presenting it to the partner group. Ensure you have diversity on the task force. A good task force consists of someone who will work on the details, someone who will hold the group accountable to the deadlines that are set and someone who has the ability to look at things "outside the box.” All of these traits are extremely important to the overall success of the process.

The Expectations
What do the partners of the firm expect their managing partner to provide for them? Some will want a visionary leader, one who not only can see opportunities for the firm but who also inspires others to make the changes necessary to obtain those opportunities. Others may have expectations that require the managing partner to be more cautious and conservative in their approach to firm leadership. What happens when the expectations of the group are not the same? Obviously, there will be dissent among group leaders and the firm will not make the progress it is looking for as it elects a leader. So, you need to poll the entire partner group and discover the true expectations for the position. One tool that can be used is the Kolbe C Index. The Kolbe C is an online tool that takes about 20 minutes to complete. Each partner completes the index and then a certified professional can assist in interpreting the results and developing a profile for the managing partner position within your firm. By using this tool, you can ensure that the expectations of the entire group are determined before you move on to the next step.

The Job Description
After expectations are determined, the next step is the development of a job description. The job description will give the managing partner a road map of the job requirements, the skills required and the expectations for the position. The task force should ensure the following areas are addressed in the job description:

  • An overview of the position;
  • A paragraph describing accountability within the position, including whom the position will report to and term requirements;
  • A list of the major duties and responsibilities that will be assigned to the managing partner;
  • Cognitive expectations, which means the knowledge required for the position, including degrees, certifications and number of years in the firm; 
  • The affective expectations, meaning the motivation, desires and qualities required within the position, including how much time will be spent in management rather than production, how the managing partner will interact with staff and the person’s passion for the good of the firm rather than personal gain
  • The way the managing partner will work within the firm, including the level of "vision,” "processes” and "detail” within the position. These are the conative expectations that are in place and are discovered while using the Kolbe C Index tool discussed earlier in this article.

Operating Policies and Procedures
With expectations and a job description in place, the next area of work to be completed is the development of the operating policies and procedures as they relate to the managing partner position. The areas that should be included are:

  • Term of office and election guidelines;
  • Managing partner and client responsibilities (specific guidelines outlining chargeable hours and percentage of time spent on firm management);
  • Compensation (general formula that will be used to determine the managing partner compensation);
  • Transitional compensation when leaving office (guidelines for the period of time when the managing partner is working back into a "production” position for the firm);
  • Management restrictions (decision-making authority for the Managing Partner Executive Committee—the guidelines for the executive committee as they pertain to the managing partner position)
  • Election and term of office for the executive committee (the guidelines for the executive committee on terms of service on the committee and voting and non-voting members).

The task force’s next responsibility is to determine a compensation structure that is fair and motivating to the managing partner. A book could be written (and mostly likely already has been) on the number of varying compensation structures within firms today. Depending on the firm’s goals, the age and personal goals of the partners and the resources that are available, compensation structures can range from very complex to very simple. One of the most intriguing concepts taking hold today is the Balanced Scorecard approach. As defined in Kaplan and Norton’s original book, titled The Balanced Scorecard, Balanced Scorecard (BSC) is a concept that helps to translate strategy into action. When determining a BSC for the managing partner, a firm should ensure it is evaluating areas that will drive the firm to positive results. Some of those areas could be:

  • Learning and growth
  • Processes
  • Client satisfaction
  • Financial measures

Most firms have mastered the financial measurements and in some cases, that is the only thing on which they evaluate the managing partner. The BSC will ensure that the emphasis for the position is more diverse and will encompass other areas that are important for the managing partner to concentrate on. You will get what you measure, so be careful. Make sure your task force identifies the areas of the firm that it wants the managing partner to emphasize and then develop the scorecard to match the expectations. If it is developed correctly, accountability and measurable goals will be evident within the BSC, and the managing partner will understand exactly what is expected. You should also realize this will require management time and commitment for it to be successful in your firm; it is not an overnight transition. Remember, this is about progress and not perfection!

Deliver the Report and Build Consensus
The task force is now armed with all of the information it needs to deliver results and recommendations. At this point in the process, it is important to listen to observations, make adjustments as necessary and, finally, make a decision that everyone is willing to live with. Notice that I did not say a decision that everyone agrees on! Keep in mind that the plan is just that—a plan.  It is a guide; you can make adjustments later. For now, you have a plan and you are ready to move on.

Now, visualize yourself back at your firm’s annual partner summit. You have just heard a detailed report from the task force of the process that has just been completed. You have the recommendations in front of you and you have the knowledge you need to make a decision when the nomination and the election occur. Do you feel confident? In all likelihood you do. That is the reason for the process, and that is how a firm can select a managing partner who will indeed meet the majority of your expectations! The final step is to build a management team based on unique abilities and complimentary skills. Don’t be afraid to make some tough decisions.

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