4 Tips for Developing Managers

by Jon Hubbard, Director

Any promotion can be a challenge, but it can especially tough for accountants with strong technical skills who are promoted to manager. Too often, firms base promotions on technical expertise. Yet after a few weeks or months, those rising stars struggle to manage projects and team members.

Technical knowledge simply isn’t enough in a management position. When new managers continue to focus on their own projects while ignoring the skills that are necessary to their new role, they run into trouble.

Make no mistake: this isn’t a failure on the part of the individual who was promoted. The responsibility falls on the firm leaders who didn’t invest the time and money needed to train good employees to be great managers. Fortunately, there’s a solution to this problem.

In our Guide to Developing Managers, we help firms discover strategies to meet the challenges of developing and retaining managers. In addition to tools to help firm leaders assess their own management team, our guide includes a one-page plan to help the firm turn its middle into loyal and productive stars.

Here’s a sample of some strategic objectives for developing managers, and tips for implementing them in your firm.

Strategic Objective #1: Retain and attract quality people at the management level

The accounting industry has been struggling with a retention problem for years – especially at the five- to seven-year experience level. At the root of that problem is neglect. Seniors and managers aren’t offered the time and resources to develop a balanced skillset, so they seek out other employers that will provide them with what they need to excel.

The first step in developing managers is to reduce turnover at the senior management level down. This ensures that senior managers can find suitable successors, middle managers won’t leave for other opportunities, and junior staff won’t follow the good managers out the door.

Know your baseline retention metrics, then identify strategies for improvement, including:

  • Developing a training program to educate managers on both technical and management skills

  • Documenting criteria for identifying and selecting appropriate management candidates and notifying them of their selection

  • Developing and communicating expectations for a manager in the program

Track the progress of managers in the program to ensure accountability.

Strategic Objective #2: Create a pool of future leaders through growth opportunities for firm personnel

In most firms, partners are compensated based on their book of business and chargeable hours. As a result, managers feel pressure to spend all of their time working on clients – often at the expense of working on the firm by developing others’ skills. They also feel pressure to spend their training budget on developing technical expertise to better serve clients and meet CPE requirements.

The firm must create a pool of future leaders by balancing technical and management skills. This will increase overall job satisfaction and reduce turnover at the senior and manager levels.

Strategies for improvement include:

  • Developing individualized learning plans at every level of the firm

  • Developing a mentor/coaching program

  • Setting expectations through the performance evaluation system

Adapt and improve your learning plans, mentor/coaching program and performance evaluation system by gathering feedback from employees.

Strategic Objective #3: Better utilize team resources

People are happiest and most successful when they have an opportunity to use their unique abilities to produce great results. We’ll get better results when we focus on our teams’ strengths and help them develop those talents instead of trying to force everyone to fit a rigid mold.

  • To better utilize your existing resources and improve leverage of partners and managers:

  • Assess individual unique abilities to identify the highest value tasks in each individual’s current position

  • Identify areas for improvement and/or delegation

When you start matching skills and capabilities with tasks and selecting the right person for the right job, you’ll be able to track the progress of both managers and staff members.

Strategic Objective #4: Develop and maintain a consistent and sustainable culture</