Surely, a partner role is just the same as an assignment manager with a bit of other stuff chucked in? Well, no. Is it just a title for appearances sake & business cards? Well, no…These are some of the reasons why so many people fail to make the grade as a partner, because they don’t fully make the transition from assignment manager to partner. It may be that they are not equipped to make the change, or as sometimes happens, the firm they are in does not let them make the transition.

In some firms there is often an intermediary step between assignment manager and partner – the director role. In our experience, most directors tend to be assignment managers who have special responsibilities either for technical matters or business development.

Let’s look at a junior partner role in this post…

Most new junior partners need to make a large shift in their work-based values and how they will now spend their time. As an assignment manager you can either have a fixed, but more often, temporary team to lead and motivate, and you hold the day to day relationship with the client.

The first shift that new partners need to make is that they are now responsible for winning work, as well as leading teams of teams. This is an almost universal feature of any partner’s position in any firm. There are only a very few large professional practices that can have partners who are not measured on their ability to directly win work. For many new partners, business development is a new skill set to learn – and one that they need to learn quickly. Switched on firms will allow staff to develop consultative selling skills as they progress through the ranks.

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The second shift for new partners is one of accountability. The buck now stops here.  Any new business owner will tell you it can be a very lonely place at the top of a firm; but ultimately a new partner now has sign off authority and is responsible to ‘delighting’ and retaining the clients in their portfolio. Their name and professional credibility is only as good as the last piece of work which went out the door. With the many demands on a partner’s time, and an often impossibly high utilisation target, this day-to-day communication with clients is often dropped to the bottom of the priority list.

As a junior partner, you move from being a manager of others to being a manager of managers, or in smaller firms, a manager of a function. At first sight this may be a simple transition. However, this is often not the case. The challenge is here is how to reallocate your time so that you are focusing on translating firm-wide strategy into what it means for your team/function… and how you are coaching and developing your assignment managers. The work that your assignment managers send out, has your name on it… therefore, rather than letting yourself get involved in the juicy technical bits of the job, your role is to empower your assignment managers to get on and complete the client assignments.

You may have noticed that I have not mentioned client work yet. As a member of a professional practice, there will always be an element of chargeable client work that you are responsible for completing. However, your role now is to motivate, develop and lead your assignment managers and their teams to complete this work – rather than you personally getting your hands dirty. Ultimately you are responsible for developing the next generation of partners. If you stay fixed in the assignment manager role, then you will clog your firm’s leadership pipeline, and prevent high potential assignment manager’s from developing their future skill set to make partner.

Many junior partners face the challenge of being given a personal high utilisation figure which prevents them from focusing on the key non-chargeable areas of their role as partner, namely, business development, staff development and translation of firm wide strategy into functional strategy. In my opinion, this is a short-sighted and non-nonsensical practice. If you want partners to lead the firm, why ask them to still be technical experts? Ultimately, it is the success in these non-chargeable areas which will be the yardsticks which others measure your success by….

Click here to download our free Career Action Plan template and full instructions on how to use it to move your career forward. (email required)

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