The early model worked.
You qualified, made partner, had your name above the door, worked on your business, served a small(ish) clientele, cared passionately about super-pleasing and the business provided, in most cases, a sustainable living.
Too many people chasing too few spots, and their principal motivation is money.
Partnership is largely a self-fulfilling model for those internal to who it serves. It is the only tool to keep people in the game. There has been some tinkering with role definitions and the title, but for the vast majority of those in practice it is what they aspire to.
My idea of partnership is not based on faith i.e. the notion that people will grow into the role. Too many partners occupy their position of power by dint of their early billing prowess and not because of their ability to lead others. Firms are suffering as a result.
In terms of running a business, it should be clear where the business need lies and any decision taken to recruit should be based on someone who can further the strategic aim. Unfortunately, for a lot of firms they are having to manage their strategic planning to take account of the people in post. Not quite the tail wagging the dog but not far off.
Look at what the business needs to survive over the long term. In Jim Collins speak (he of Good to Great fame), do you have the right people on the rights seats on the bus? If not, there are tthree options:
1. Re-train those people that you have;
2. Make recruitment a strategic priority and find the very best candidates you can; or
3. Promote from within.
When the yoghurt it the fan in 2007 you acted. Staff numbers were cut and you got lean. But how many firms carried on looking at their partner cohort through the same, circumspect glasses?
Partnership changes are not easy. They can cause massive dislocation, and in some cases lead to the whole edifice crumbling. But they should not be seen as de jure based on long service, billing or a means of retention.
Partners are CEOs of their practice area. They have to be seen as the best of the best if the title is to mean something. In a (nanosecond) moment, clients will be presented with a melange of titles and badging someone ‘partner’ will not guarantee you making more money.
Expectations are never easy to manage where you have allowed things to ossify to the point where no action is your safest bet. But for those with their hand on the tiller you need to act now. There may not be the same financial urgency as there was before but the tide of the market is against you.