There are competency frameworks, psychological profiles and considerable debate about what makes a great partner. So in a somewhat lighter spirit, and using 20+ years of observations of partners of all shapes and sizes (the good, the bad and the ugly) here are my thoughts on the 12 Ps of Partner (rather than the 12 days of Christmas).
Without profit, there is no partnership and no partners. Obvious really. Except some partners pursue billable hours, work in progress, fee income or world domination without considering the impact on current or future profits. Numeracy and financial literacy are fundamental requirements. Bring on the accountants.
Accountants and lawyers can’t practise without being members of a professional body, and while many property partners are RICS members there are a lot of agents that aren’t. Take a look at how Wiki defines “professional”:
a. Expert and specialized knowledge in the field in which one is practicing professionally
b. Excellent manual, practical and literary skills in relation to the profession
c. High quality work
d. A high standard of professional ethics, behaviour and work activities while carrying out one's profession (as an employee, self-employed person, career, enterprise, business, company, or partnership/associate/colleague, etc.). The professional owes a higher duty to a client, often a privilege of confidentiality, as well as a duty not to abandon the client just because he or she may not be able to pay or remunerate the professional. Often the professional is required to put the interest of the client ahead of his or her own interests
e. Reasonable work morale and motivation. Having interest and desire to do a job well as well as holding a positive attitude towards the profession are important elements in attaining a high level of professionalism.
f. Appropriate treatment of relationships with colleagues. Consideration should be shown to elderly, junior or inexperienced colleagues, as well as those with special needs. An example must be set to perpetuate the attitude of one's business without doing it harm.
It makes you think doesn’t it? Reread David Maister’s “True professionalism” as well.
3. Plan and Positioning
Yes, I know partners thrived for many years without a written plan. But times change and most markets now face non-stop pressure from deregulation, technology advances, consolidation, price resistance and increasing competition. Without a plan, your practice or portfolio will drift in response to the clients and work you react to – rather than grow in the direction that you want. And what’s your position in the market? If you are not one of the heavyweight big firms then it’s probably niche time for you. Differentiate or die. No-one is interested in vanilla anymore – that’s the commodity market – you need a target market that you can call your own or to be a specialist where there aren’t thousands of existing “experts”.
4. People skills, Personality and Progression
It is no longer enough to have a high IQ – you need strong EQ (emotional intelligence) skills too – to work productively with your partners, to manage and develop your staff (if you lead, will they follow?), to retain your existing clients and referrers and to win new ones. Whether in the traditional drinks reception networking or chatting-at-the-rugby style or in the online world of social media, you need to have some personality if you want people to remember who you are and enjoy working with you or referring to you. It’s a drone-free world out there folks. And what’s more, you need to think about who will progress into your very big shoes – yes, address succession early or your practice (and your pension) will not be sustainable.
5. Pliable with Pride
No, I don’t mean break the professional or statutory rules. But as the world and its markets change you must adapt. It is hard to accept that after 20 or more years of successful practice – especially if you are an expert with significant gravitas - that you may have to change. But it’s “adapt or die” time now. And if your pride in your team and your firm doesn’t shine through, then you won’t be an effective ambassador. A surprising number of partners know too little about or have too little faith in those around them.
6. Project management and Pricing
This is a relatively new term for something that most partners do instinctively on large client matters. However, formal project management skills (particularly scoping skills for fixed fees) are becoming increasingly valuable when dealing with large client collaboration projects or in executing strategic management projects to move the firm forward.
7. Promotion with precision
As a marketing professional, I have to have promotion – marketing, selling and relationship management – in the mix. There are some grand old rainmakers out there, but modern firms build teams who develop cogent campaigns that focus in on the market with laser precision and hit it with a competition-crushing proposition. Sometimes delivered partly through the intelligent (and I use that word advisedly) use of social media!
8. Proactive about a Pipeline of Prospects
Pipeline may still be an issue for some partners who are so busy doing today’s work to generate today’s fees and fire-fighting that they fail to consider what work is on the horizon for next month, next quarter and next year. Having thousands of contacts is of little value if there are no prospects (or prospective referrers) amongst them. And no matter how strong your existing client base is and how well you care for it, you need to add new prospects to the pipeline.
9. Prying eyes (and ears)
Well, I don’t mean be nosey in an underhand way, but you need to be curious. Enquire about the changes that are coming in the market, what keeps clients awake at night, what makes team members tick and how you might do things differently. A healthy interest (backed up by research and dialogue) in clients and their businesses and industries is a touchstone of great marketing and selling.
10. Passion and patience
Those that love what they do, do well. Whilst it is hard to stay motivated when you face a daily onslaught of challenges, problems and crises, those that continue to enthuse provide immense motivation and inspiration to others. They are irresistible! Some partners suffer from “short-termitis”. This is a usually fatal condition which means that initiatives are knocked down before they have a chance to yield results. If the research is good, the cost-benefit analysis adds up and the programme and people are sound – please give it a chance!
It’s a brave new world out there. Whilst some might cower in the office hiding behind their desks, others are out there listening to the market and interacting with clients, referrers and contacts. And they come back with new ideas. Some call it innovation. The pioneers are hacking a path through the jungle of inertia and resistance to develop new business models, discover new income streams, open up new markets, create new products and services, design new ways to improve old processes, craft new pricing strategies and to reinvent their profession and their practice. But remember Harvey S. Firestone’s wise words “The way of the pioneer is always rough”.
It isn’t essential to have that certain “je ne sais quoi” or, dare I say it, “X factor” as a partner but it certainly makes life easier. And a lot more fun.
Wishing you a Merry Christmas. And a happy and prosperous 2013. Kim Tasso (aka RedStarKim)