I’ve been in partnerships for the last 15 years. The number of partners in my firm has ranged from 10 to 2. I’ve been a fee earner and Managing Partner in each partnership from 10 to 2. I’ve been involved in mergers, acquisitions, bringing partners up through the ranks, partner exits, partnership dissolutions, practice sales. I’ve been involved in traditional partnership management structures and corporate management structures. I’ve advised clients on partnership matters. There’s not much that I haven’t seen when it comes to the relationships between partners and how a partnership functions.
In every partnership, the personal outcomes that each partner is aiming to achieve will be different. From a business perspective, there can only be one overriding business strategy. What I call partner alignment is when all partners are aligned to the business strategy, not necessarily aligned to each other personally.
Personal outcomes will drive behaviours in a business context. Provided a partner can achieve their personal outcomes (which might not be money) from actively aligning to and participating in the business strategy, the partner will be aligned. But when their personal goals and objectives are so different to the business strategy, their behaviour will not be conducive to alignment, even though they say they are aligned. I learnt a long time ago not to listen to what people say or write, it’s what they do that truly shows how they feel and think.
So, the first step to building a successful partnership is to get REAL with each other on what your personal goals and objectives are, and then get clear on and subscribe to an agreed business strategy. Jim Collins, in his book ‘Good to Great”, says that before you develop your strategy, make sure you have got the right people on the bus sitting in the right seats, and the wrong people off the bus. Only then you will be able to work out where the bus is going to go. He also says that you must address the brutal facts. So the bus is your partnership. If it’s not working, first check out if you are sitting in the wrong seat, and if you aren’t, it’s time to stop the bus and get it right. Only then will you be able to achieve partner alignment.
Once you’re aligned, then you must implement. The business will have standard systems and processes that we must all adhere to, but each partner must still be able to produce their results using the resources of the firm, provided they are on the bus. They must also be accountable and responsible for this.
So what is it that makes a partnership work? Firstly, it’s respect. Respect for the differences between the strengths and weaknesses a partner brings to the table, yes we all have weaknesses. But at the end of the day, it’s a business. Every business needs a plan, a strategy. Your firm must have a purpose, other than money, as to why it exists, but if it isn’t profitable, it won’t survive. If your firm is the body, then profit and cash are the oxygen and blood that keeps it going.
Ever heard the saying “A fish rots from the head down”. The performance of a business is a direct reflection of the leaders’ attitudes and actions in the business. There is no blame down the line; the responsibility is at the top.
A dysfunctional partnership will produce poor results. It might work in the short term, but it is not sustainable. Eventually it will break down. A strong, focused, aligned and active partnership working towards a common goal will endure and produce amazing results.
Address the Brutal Facts, sort out the bus, and get on with it!
Some think it’s about accountability or alignment, but truly it is about both.
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