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Rising stars: Encouraging managers to think like partners

Leadership skills are important in any organisation, and it is particularly so for partners of accounting firms. But these skills don’t develop in a vacuum, and it is incumbent on an organisation to help managers and directors develop their leadership skills as they progress down the partnership path.

Insights Georgina Tate, HLB Mann Judd 01 February 2019
— 3 minute read

However, not all firms do this well. All too often managers and directors are not provided with the training and opportunities to develop their leadership skills, and they can find the path to partnership is an uncertain one.


One strategy to help smooth the transition and achieve the leadership aim is to encourage managers to “think like a partner”.

Thinking like a partner is when a manager or director is encouraged to think about the team as a whole, as well as to think about the wider practice and the firm. It’s no longer about ‘me’ but about the people around them, and becoming involved in actively building a practice and creating a legacy.

Someone who thinks like a partner will realise that it is ‘my’ responsibility to develop ‘me’. It’s not the firm’s sole responsibility, but also dependent on the individual to drive the development.  Of course, the numbers and hitting billing targets are important, but of greater importance for sustained business success is active business development, management and leadership.

If a manager expects they will get promoted to partner simply through loyalty and hard work alone, they have not got the right mindset. While these are obviously desirable attributes that are required for success, on their own they are not enough. Managers and directors have to think and act like a partner if they are to succeed.

Shadow management

The strategy we’ve undertaken to raise managers and directors into leaders begins with the “rising stars” program, which encourages managers to step out of their comfort zone and create the role they want.

Since this program was introduced earlier this year it has resulted in useful career development for, and initiatives from, the participants.

For instance, one of the newly promoted managers in the program suggested the establishment of a shadow management committee within the wider manager leadership group. The idea is that the firm uses these managers as a sounding board for new ideas and approaches for executing firm strategy, as well as providing these managers with greater insight into firm operations so they can really start thinking like a partner.

Managers hold a crucial role with substantial responsibility, yet historically have had no real membership in the decisions made or the process of deliberation. The establishment of this group calls on managers to step up and exercise their commercial acumen. It also improves the decision making process by providing insights and information from the floor back to the partnership.

The end result is managers who are engaged and empowered and think like future business leaders.

The establishment of the group also assists in not only bridging the gap between staff and partners, but increasing cross-divisional communication with the objective of an integrated firm.

Career development is a two-way street. That the idea was championed by a newly promoted manager demonstrates that the firm is not only open to ideas from its young leaders, but recognises the importance managers play in the success of the firm. 

To date, the shadow management committee has been delegated several components of the firm strategy to work on and ultimately reports its ideas to the management committee, for its consideration.

Facilitating the process

Of course, as with any leadership program, it is not without its challenges. Perhaps the biggest challenge that managers face in taking the step to partner is moving from being task-oriented and managing workflow to running a practice and becoming a true client adviser.

It is incumbent on the firm to help facilitate this process and steps that can be taken to help achieve this include:

  • encouraging autonomy in their role and collaboration on metrics, such as staff engagement results;
  • inviting managers to the divisional strategy days and investing in change management training; and
  • encouraging managers to develop their working relationships with managers, directors and partners outside of their division.

The path ahead

As a multigenerational, gender diverse workforce, we need to be solutions focused and capable of managing our staff through change.

One of the major limitations in any business is achieving positive change and the managers are one of the pivotal points of change. If the managers are on board, change is much more likely and much more positive. Further, because they are closer to the day-to-day operations, the managers have better understanding of how to improve our processes and to engage our teams.

Georgina Tate, HR Manager, HLB Mann Judd

Rising stars: Encouraging managers to think like partners
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