Julia Whistler is head of operations at Foulger Underwood

Tension has long played a part in the role of the practice managing partner. Maintaining the firm on a day-to-day basis, setting strategy and planning while managing a client portfolio means than they have had to serve as a jack-of-all-trades, rather than necessarily master of any. 

Covid-19 has really brought this home, forcing firms and their leaders to be more agile and swift of foot. Working from home has meant huge and pressing decisions around IT and working logistics, and clients have also required more support than ever.

Many decisions have had to be made quickly around team workflows, processes and communication. Alongside this, there has been a much greater focus on HR and wellbeing. 

Ultimately, serving as operations, HR and IT director has proved hugely challenging for the managing partner, and bandwidth has narrowed significantly.

The focus for a modern managing partner should be on developing business for the firm, driving strategy and future planning – not fixing the plumbing

Shed surplus roles

The focus for a modern managing partner should be on developing business for the firm, driving strategy and future planning – not fixing the plumbing. Shedding these other roles will require some thought, and certainly involvement and support from the rest of the practice. 

Bear in mind, alongside this, the future for an accounting practice is one where HR and employee wellbeing plus closer client relationships – driven by cloud technology – are not a flash in the pan. They are here to stay. The managing partner must shed these associated roles that have now become more critical.

Do you have senior team members who are specialists in HR or IT? If not, then serious consideration must be given to either recruiting a specialist or employing the services of a virtual one. 

An outsourced HR resource should be bang up to date on employment law, government policy and all things employee lifecycle-related. This certainly doesn’t need to be full time – hourly/monthly outsourced HR and IT support is also an option.  

The managing partner’s mindset, and that of the other senior team members, is critical here. HR and IT have become key aspects of practice development. In a market where staff retention, recruitment and training is critical, and where digitisation enables more information to flow between the firm and clients, getting it wrong can cause immense issues. However, getting it right can bring greater rewards such as loyalty, retention and happiness, and, on the IT side, cost savings and efficiencies. 

Look beyond senior level

So, if certain responsibilities are delegated to HR and IT, how will that work? Do they actually have the expertise to undertake the role? Will they be given the time to take responsibility for it? Will they need extra top-up training? 

It can also be an opportunity to devolve tasks and responsibilities to other non-senior team members – which should be a positive. Giving them more responsibility may well accelerate their learning and importance to the practice, and reveal management capabilities unseen before.  

Delegating out doesn’t mean abdicating responsibility. The managing partner and leadership team will need to make sure reporting is put in place to maintain visibility and ensure a feedback loop. 

Lead and strategise

The managing partner should be there to lead. Time can be spent on managing existing client relationships and building new ones. Developing business can also be strategic – understanding what you offer and to whom. If that needs to develop and evolve, then you will need to consider team resource, and whether your tech is up to the task. That is the point where your HR and IT heads can get involved in the conversation. 

Bringing the managing partner’s role into the 21st century is not something done in isolation – it does involve altering other people’s roles, and changes the structure of the practice towards something more ‘corporate’. But it is highly effective and appropriate for a post-Covid professional services environment.