From Achilles’ Heel to Midas Touch: Five Keys That Will Transform Your Partner Accountability

Avatar photoMatt Rampe / Sep 6, 2023

Partner accountability: partners know they need it but often don’t know how to create it. We talked with managing partners around the country to learn what they saw as their biggest challenges in creating more partner accountability:Accountability

  • Excuses for everything!
  • Lack of motivation –some people aren’t motivated by rewards and are comfortable where they are (they don’t care to improve).
  • Partners: most partners are great; a few are terrible.
  • On big initiatives, getting the ball rolling is hard for us.
  • Good at getting initiatives started and 90% complete. Often, finishing the last 10% is difficult.
  • Agreeing on what to hold each other accountable for.
  • Need a clear plan and goals to pull forward.

Without good partner accountability, a firm can never advance in a powerful way. A few of the places where you’ll want strong accountability are:

  • Creating your long-term firm vision
  • Values and culture
  • Business development (or client culling!)
  • Realization and profitability
  • Billing and collections

So how do firms create strong partner accountability?

When I do managing partner coaching, I often rely on a five-part framework that creates positive behavior change (shown below). The process is not always linear, but these are the keys to getting the behaviors you need from each .










1. Build Awareness

It’s hard to be accountable to something if you don’t know what it is. We recommend annual strategic planning or partner retreats where partners align on the firm’s long-term vision of success, then break that down into partner goals for the current year. Quarterly check-ins on these goals and even weekly meetings on key strategic priorities are a best practice. Work “on the business” is not a side hobby. For partners, it should remain firmly in the spotlight, and the goals related to that should be measurable and clear.


2. Grow Motivation

Perhaps the hardest piece of accountability is answering this question: does your partner want to do the thing you’re asking of them? If not, accountability is a longshot, at best. Psychology tells us that intrinsic (internal) motivation is more powerful than extrinsic (external) motivation. While we often tempt our partners with more compensation, the truth is partners are often well paid already and sometimes underwhelmed at the prospect of making hard changes for incremental money. We need to dive into what they genuinely want to do. Align your partners to goals they are well suited for and want to achieve. If no one wants to do it, consider delegating, outsourcing or filling the void by hiring.

Our book The Role of the Managing Partner includes: how the best MPs in the country impact their firm’s success • how the MP manages the other partners • getting partner accountability • increasing profitability • management vs. leadership • authority that the MP should have • 25 best practices that the MP should focus on • the MP’s role in managing staff and revenue growth • how MPs lead the charge in merging in other firms • why it’s critically important for the MP to assemble a great management team • partner compensation-a potent weapon in the MP’s arsenal • observations of how the very best MPs operate • essential organizational skills for MPs • evaluating the MP • why and how MPs fail • great quotes from great leaders.

3. Create Capability

If your partner knows what to do and wants to do it – now we ask, can they do it? Realistically, do they have enough time to do it? Do they have the required skill set? Do they have the necessary staff or technology? If not, get them those resources. The managing partner’s role is to unblock their team. Once they have the proper resources and ability to do the task, all that’s left is execution.


4. Practice Until Mastery

We don’t expect kids to learn how to ride a bike on the first try – why do we think adults are any different when it comes to mastering complex skills? We need to practice, fail, and learn many times before we get better. While this is frustrating, letting your partners know that it’s okay to fail, as long as they’re getting better, will go a long way towards encouraging them to stick with the learning process long enough to master the new skill or behavior we need from them.


5. Ongoing Momentum

Once you’re seeing success in your partners, keep it going! Everyone loves praise. Praise the wins, both big and small, along the way. Praise their effort. Praise partners for wanting to get better. Running a successful CPA firm is no small feat – and partners are already wearing many hats. While there are always more hills to climb, we need to celebrate the successes we have already to make people feel like continuing.


When combined, these five keys will help you diagnose where your partner accountability is falling short – and help you correct it. When partner accountability becomes your Midas Touch, then every goal you touch can turn to gold!

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