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Plotting your climb to the top of the tree

The ICAEW has published a new guide packed with advice on how you can one day become a partner. Here we pick out some of the highlights

January 2016

You’ve started your career in accountancy and making partner may seem a long way off. So how do you rise up the ranks? In ICAEW’s latest insider’s guide, ‘Get off to a Flying Start’, partners share their top tips, ICAEW Executive Director Sharron Gunn told PQ. She said: “You don’t wake up one morning and decide you want to be a partner. You must plan for your development from the moment you start training. It can seem daunting, but ambition really sets you apart from the rest of your colleagues. It will be noticed by your employer, who may have already spotted you as potential partner material.
“It’s not just technical knowledge. It’s about winning people’s trust and having good communication skills. Your clients will value the breadth of your experience, which means you need to grasp opportunities that you can’t leave to chance. Take your professional development in your own hands.”

1. Ask yourself: why?
Becoming a partner means you cease to become an employee and instead have a stake in the business. It comes with a raft of responsibilities so ask yourself: what is motivating me? Talk to current partners and ask what processes it took for them to get there – every firm is different. Be honest about your capabilities and wants and then communicate them to others.

2. Have self-awareness
It’s important to understand your skills, strengths and values. You’ll need to demonstrate upfront that you have the potential to become a partner. But knowing what to focus on is a start – and we recommend looking at your personal effectiveness ‘tool-bag’. So remember to:
• Make time for activities that maximise your value.
• Take time to understand priorities for the business, your client and yourself.
• Not get bogged down with short-term deliverables and learn to delegate.
• Communicate with impact and raise your profile.

3. Business and personal case
There’s no one-size-fits-all as selection processes differ across firms. It’s important to get clarity on the process by speaking to the partner who will be supporting you through the process. You must think about the commercial need for the new partner role and why you have the skills to deliver.

4. Winning new business
This is often the biggest skill aspiring partners have to develop. As a partner you’ll be defined as the finder who brings work in, the minder who coordinates activities, the binder who brings people together and a grinder who delivers the work. You’ll be measured on your financial performance, which will include fee targets and new business brought into the practice. You’ll therefore need to increase your level of service and your client base. You must also be a credible voice and demonstrate a much broader range of knowledge and experience.

5. Master internal relationships
You will need to gain the trust of your fellow partners to take up referral opportunities so it’s essential to build a strong network with your peers, too. Being a partner doesn’t mean you make all decisions by yourself; you must learn to consult and share knowledge. So think about:
• Volunteering to host events.
• Spending time in other offices.
• Having a mentor.
• Have a contact for every specialism.
Not all partnerships are perfect, and politics are given at any point in your career. Remember, you can’t change the behaviour of others, but you can lead by your own example. Be consistent and stick to your values.

6. Acting the part
Whole books are written about leadership, but we asked partners how to define their role as a leader. Their responses fell into three categories:
• Vision and strategy.
• Leadership behaviours.
• A decisive approach.

You can read a lot more on this by getting a copy of the ‘Get off to a Flying Start’ report (visit www.icaew.com/dlip).

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