25 years ago I joined a big 4 accounting firm as a graduate Accountant. My Manager then was a special beast.
He would lock his office door and bark instructions, send out work to be done and complain when mistakes were made. At no time did he get involved in any training or help me with my workflow.
I wonder if this set the grounding for what I thought was the role of a manager in an accounting firm or if this is what partners of accounting firms expect…. a pseudo partner managing clients and providing specialist advice.
I remember fondly the WIP Meetings at 7:30 am on a Monday morning.
Everyone in the boardroom LA law style, partners sending down the message to get work done and helping us with queries and workflow.
Managers rarely attended, either they were smart enough to book meetings with clients or they just were not expected to attend. All of my mentorship, guidance and training came from the Partners not the Manager.
This trend continued throughout my career, even when I was a manager.
I then found out what was going on. The pressure to bill hours, achieve productivity and deal with clients just did not leave time to work with a team of graduates. They were thrown in the deep end just like I was. It was clearly a sink or swim philosophy.
As partners we continued to set these expectations of managers. Over time, however, I saw that there were two different types of managers evolving;
- the traditional manager focussed billable hours and client management,
- and the one who lead a team and got fantastic results, managed their client’s workflow, but never achieved their productivity targets.
As all we cared about was achieving productivity targets, it seemed like the second manager was doomed.
I have worked very closely with a large number of accounting firms in the past 3 years and I can see that this trend continues.
So what’s right?
I think in general the accounting industry has got their definitions wrong. All businesses, and not just accounting firms need to clearly identify and reward managers based on their strengths.
Not billable hours.
At HubOne I have seen a very different approach and clearly defined manager. They are employed and rewarded to manage a team of people and get the best from them – Leveraging their own and their team’s knowledge. They are rewarded for the results of the team. It’s a true flat management structure.
A number of the firms I have worked with and especially the larger more traditional firms seem to really struggle with their managers. This is most apparent when they get involved in implementing new systems and processes.
They don’t have the time nor the incentive.
The most difficult person to change is the manager, when you expect the most support in change management to come from them. Why is this? What’s going on in these firms?
Read the answer in my next installment so subscribe for more!