Who Will Lead Your Firm: Leadership Assessment at a Top Professional Services Firm

The Challenge

A financial professional services firm operating in the areas of audit, tax, risk, corporate finance and general advisory employed a national managing partner who had been in the role many years, successfully building a growing and progressive business.

Nearing the end of his tenure, the firm was keen to make constitutional governance changes whereby the successor would be elected by the rest of the partnership, serving for a fixed four-year term. He/she would be able to seek re-election for one further term, after which a new leader would be appointed.

These planned changes commenced a necessary dialogue in the business about who might lead it in the future. The chief people officer (herself a partner) was keen to provide the firm with a diverse range of leadership talent over the coming years.

Solution

Wickland Westcott, part of New Street Group was retained to develop a programme to help identify those partners with senior leadership potential, and to provide them with support to further develop their leadership skills. We began by undertaking extensive research to understand the firm’s culture, and determining those specific behaviours essential for leadership success in their specific context. We then blended this data with our own learning from our 40 year heritage of assessing leaders, to create a ‘leadership blueprint’.

The next step was to design a sensitive, insightful and fair assessment process that would be face-valid to partner participants, whilst still providing them with a challenging, informative and enjoyable experience. Crucially, this process had to appeal and be relevant to participants across service lines: tax, audit, advisory etc.

The equity partner candidate pool (numbering approximately 40 people) all stepped forward and engaged with this process, each receiving detailed face-to-face feedback on their strengths and development areas relative to the leadership blueprint. This was then followed by the provision of a menu of learning solutions, including personal coaching and skills-based workshops to appeal to these busy professionals.

Outcome 

The programme was deemed a real success. It highlighted a number of partners who had both the potential and the desire to one day lead the firm. Personal development plans are now in place to help them on that journey. The design of the assessment process provided participants with a case study exercise in which they were the boss of a professional service firm. This ‘realistic job preview’ enabled a number of partners, who had previously thought they might like to be national managing partner, to reflect upon their career direction. The process has also served to help partners truly understand themselves and adjust their aspirations accordingly. 

In a further vote of confidence in the process, the firm has now asked Wickland Westcott to use a similar approach to assess all future partner appointments, both internal promotions and external hires. In this way it will ensure the best quality hires, reduce expensive mistakes and enhance its employer brand, whilst also providing the chief people officer (and indeed the next national managing partner) with crucial information about its top talent. 

If you'd like to discuss implementing a partner assessment program, please contact Colin Mercer at cmercer@wickland-westcott.com or on 0207 224 2071

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