Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility

How To Make Partner In Five Easy Steps (or Don’t Give Up Now, Many Partners Are Going To Die Soon)

At the end of last month the CPA Consultants' Alliance released a white paper on succession planning and leadership. Okay, it was mostly about leadership; succession planning was thrown in there to scare old people into reading it.

Succession planning has gotten boring. It's been everywhere in the accounting press for years. A boomer can't fall off his Jazzy™ without landing on an article about succession planning.
The impetus for developing a succession plan clearly rests on the owner/partner/shareholder. Now maybe I'm slow, but after reading the white paper it dawned on me that a huge opportunity exists for the rest of us. The light bulb went on when I read this: 
The "graying of America" will drive the most significant transfer of knowledge, capital and ultimately, wealth that we have ever seen.
Every succession plan needs a successor, and you don't have to wait passively hoping that somebody will choose you. This is the cutthroat world of accounting, not junior prom. (Sorry for the obscure reference, homeschoolers.) The white paper is a map to the fun side of wealth transfer, and just like Dora the Explorer, it's got five easy steps.
Step 1 – Outlive the Current Cohort of Partners
In the next few decades, more than 100,000 baby boomer CPAs are likely to retire, creating a void that new leaders will have to fill. […] The profession is already experiencing increased demand for people.
You're a hot commodity, and you will be in even higher demand as boomers die off. The report also indicates that many of the most talented people in the profession are leaving public accounting for jobs in industry. Woody Allen's aphorism comes to mind. "Eighty percent of success is showing up." Sage advice from a comedian who dumped his baby mama to hook up with her adopted daughter. Stick around while everybody else jumps ship or develops dementia, and you might end up holding all the cards.
Step 2 – Become a Visionary
Partners, owners, and shareholders listed "being a visionary" as the No. 1 leadership characteristic missing in today's firms. Unfortunately partners don't want visionaries; they want vision catchers. People with passion and vision are scary to people who are trying to preserve wealth. Partners want exemplary followers to catch the existing vision–to take the status quo to the next level. Stop what you're doing, and go ask one of your partners what his or her vision is for your firm. It's probably something impressive and motivating like, "For all staff to exceed their billable hour goals and for realization rates to approach 100%." Damn, JFK, that's powerful.
If you regularly bitch about your job in the comments at Going Concern, you're one step away from being a visionary. You can see what's wrong at your firm. Now all you need to do is figure out how to fix it and BOOM you got vision. Read Firm of the Future by Ron Baker and Paul Dunn or Why Work Sucks and How to Fix It by Cali Ressler and Jody Thompson. Those books have given more people vision than LensCrafters. 
Step 3 – Get really good at team building
The second missing component of CPA firm leadership is "the ability to develop a strong team and delegate to them." Someone at my old firm put together a softball team, and we lost every damn game. That person built a team that (a) sucked and (b) didn't contribute to the firm's bottom line – partner material.
Maybe they mean the ability to take any group of nerds and turn them into an effective accounting machine. To do this you need to train, organize, and delegate. Unfortunately, it's really hard to train, organize, delegate, and stay under budget. Never mind that once your team is trained and organized, and work is delegated, your team will crush its budgets. That first one's going to kill you.
Step 4 – Become a motivator
Partners are looking for motivators, so throw references to Herzberg's Motivation-Hygiene Theory into casual conversation around the office. Instead of saying, "Thanks for the new office chair," rather say, "The ergonomic design of this task chair is a hygiene factor that does not result in dissatisfaction." Memorize powerful speeches from movies like 300, and recite them to get the interns psyched up to scan documents into FileCabinet CS. "Interns! Ready your breakfast and eat hearty… for today at 12:30, we dine in hell! Got that? The Lunch and Learn starts at 12:30!"
Daniel Pink in his book Drive says that people are motivated in their jobs when three elements are present: autonomy, mastery, and purpose (not money, sex, and your dad never saying he was proud of you). Although, partners hold all the strings regarding autonomy, you can help others develop their mastery and purpose. There's lots of purpose in what we do. Without compilations, all of that money your clients spend on file cabinets would go to waste. 
Step 5 – Communicate
Communication didn't make it into the top three missing leadership characteristics as perceived by partners, owners, and shareholders; however, it was ranked No. 1 by associates, seniors, managers, and senior managers. And it was ranked No. 2 by administrators. Partners won't tell you this, but they suck at communication. 
The best way to stand out from among your CPA peers as an excellent communicator is to talk to humans. It'll feel weird at first, but eventually you'll get the hang of it.