Very few firms today have a well-defined “path to partner.” This creates both challenges and opportunities for today’s younger professionals with aspirations of partnership. The challenge is in that it can be hard to understand just exactly what you need to do to make partner. Conversely, the opportunity is that you can define your own path and propose this to leadership as a starting point.
Now, if you’ve been waiting for current firm leadership to tap you on the shoulder and tell you that you’re partner material, you may be waiting a while. It’s not leadership’s fault that they aren’t thinking like this. Many of them will tell you stories of them as managers or senior managers and the managing partner coming into their office and saying “you should sign this audit report because you’re a partner now.” There was no check list, job description, or formal evaluation. It just happened.
However, many firms are just realizing that vague promises about the future don’t sit well with Generation X and Y. “Work hard and you’ll get there” is not a valid response to your inquiry about what it takes to make partner. I’ve had the opportunity to work with a few firms who are developing a formal “path to partner” program designed to define the path and accelerate high-potentials in the right direction. However, if you’re in one of the remaining 99% of firms without a true defined path you as the future partner will need to create your own path and plan.
Tomorrow’s partners should have core competencies in the following areas:
Technical Specialty and/or Niche
Defining and honing your service line specialty and/or niche is important as specialization is increasingly driving buyer behavior. And it also creates a differentiator for yourself and the firm in a crowded competitive landscape.
You need to have proven strength at developing strong and deep client relationships that earns you cross-selling opportunities and referrals.
How are you increasing retention and boosting recruiting efforts? And, are you developing a strong bench of people behind you through training, leverage, team building, and effective leader development?
Tomorrow’s partners need to be able to sell. What’s your plan for bringing revenue in the door?
This isn’t an exhaustive list by any means. You may have other core competencies that you need to work on to complete your plan. One component of being a partner in a firm is to leverage a personal skill for the betterment of the firm. Consider how you could assist with technology, recruiting, human resources, marketing, efficiency, M&A, and any other host of functions needed in today’s firms.
While the objective is to make partner, you need to set some goals for yourself in each of the core competencies. Make sure the goals are measurable and have a timeline.
Now bring your plan to leadership and ask for their feedback. You will not get any firm commitments initially and you should probably treat this as the start of the discussion and a negotiation. Give them time to think about it and come back to you with their thoughts. Ultimately, you are seeking a commitment that if you meet their expectations as per the plan, you will have earned a partner position.
It’s up to you at this point to deliver. Meet with your mentor or managing partner on a quarterly basis to track your progress toward goal. Discuss obstacles and challenges and seek assistance and coaching along your journey. Discuss your progress in your annual review and remember this is usually a multi-year endeavor.
Charting your own course to partnership isn’t an easy task, but the rewards that come with partnership are usually worth the effort. Stay focused on your goals, maintain frequent communication and an open dialogue with firm leadership and you will have the best opportunity to achieve your dream of partnership.