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Practice Tips - appraising your partners

15th Jul 2005
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"Following my Practice Tip suggesting that partners should hold each other accountable for what they do I was challenged to suggest my top ten points on which I would appraise a colleague. Just to complicate things it was suggested I should make two lists. The first should be on the partner’s relationships with the world at large, the second one in internal issues. Let’s start with the world at large. My choice would be:<
1.    Fees managed
What value of fees does this partner manage? I know not all fees take the same amount of management, but it’s a good indication of two things to assess this. The first is ambition, whether of too much or too little (and both are worrying). The second thing is of contribution. A willingness to manage, even when the job can be competently led by a manager, is an important part of being a partner. The accounts system should provide the data.

2.    New fees generated.
Fees are the lifeblood of a firm. Most have a target for growth. Even those that haven’t need to replace inevitable losses, so the ability of a partner to generate fees is vital. You’ll need systems to monitor this, but they’re easy given that all new work has to be recorded so carefully anyway these days.

3.    Client losses
Everyone loses clients. But it’s always worth asking why. If it’s unavoidable, shrug it off. If there’s a pattern to it, worry about it. But it does mean you’ll need to keep a register of lost work. <

4.    Speed of response to phone calls
AccountingWEB was kind enough to give me a “quote of the year” once for simply saying all accountants should return their calls as quickly as they can. Any receptionist could undertake this assessment for the whole firm in minutes.

5.    Speed of response to letters and emails
Again, I’ve said it before, but if you don’t write back assume the client will go away. Again, almost any secretary will be able to undertake this assessment without any problem at all.

6.    Deadline compliance
Clients expect their work to be done on time. It is part of the deal they want with a professional person. Is the partner always doing work at the last minute? This is not difficult to assess. Just ask the managers and they’ll tell you who is on the ball.

7.    Delivering the promise
Does the partner offer the earth and fail to deliver? If so, they’re of no long term advantage to the firm, even if they can deliver more modest targets quite well. People don’t trust those who brag beyond their ability. You’ll have to assess this, but it’s not hard. If they do it to clients they’ll be doing it to you.

8.    Complaints received
It’s not quite true to say there is no smoke without fire – I’ve seen some wholly unjustified complaints when the only thing to do is sack the client. But even regular fee disputes usually have a reason behind them – such as failure to deliver on time or as promised. So complaints need to be reviewed to make sure there are no issues needing to be dealt with. Too often there are, and this is an easy way to require them to be addressed.

9.    Technical issues arising
Is this partner getting a lot of Revenue enquiries without obvious reason? Or is there a pattern of accounts being rejected by Companies House for trifling reasons? Both suggest either technical issues need addressing or there’s a lack of attention to detail. Either are worrying.

10.    Profile
This is the subjective one. Is the partner too brash? So much so that people run a mile to miss him or her? Or is it just the reverse and the partner simple fails to present themselves with conviction? Or do they dress inappropriately? Or swear when they shouldn’t? Or have an inappropriate sense of humour? Or just BO? Whatever it is, this is all part of profile. As is their ability to get out there and network. This is intangible, but you need to ask yourself, just because this person was partnership material once, are they still?<

I’m sure others could change the list to suit, and I’d be interested to hear what techniques others have used. But ask yourself before going ahead – how would you rate yourself?

Richard Murphy
AccountingWEB contributing editor Richard Murphy is a sole practitioner chartered accountant but was previously senior partner of a firm for 11 years. He has also been chairman, chief executive or finance director of 10 SMEs. A collection of previous articles by Richard on practice management themes is available in Practice Management Zone


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