With so much transition and retirement happening in public accounting, people development is a hot topic. Firms are wondering what they can do to accelerate their team member’s learning and get them ready faster, and are creating innovative new training programs to do so. But there’s a missing component in our dotted line environment, where your staff are working for many partners and managers and no one person truly “owns” each individual’s professional development. When no one person, or everyone, owns various functions in your firm, such as service lines or niches, clients, key administrative functions like marketing or HR, projects and people, confusion and a lack of progress and accountability invariably follow.

The solution is to ensure that every team member is assigned one owner – or shepherd - who takes responsibility for the team member’s professional development. The owner meets regularly with the staff person, getting to know them on a more individual level. Feedback is key for effective development, so the owner gathers feedback from those who have worked with the team member recently and weaves that information into the picture of “current state.” Together with the staff person they create a plan for “what’s next” in their development.

For many firm leaders, the most difficult part of ensuring all team members have an “owner” in the organization is deciding who the pool of “people owners” should be.

“The single biggest decision you make in your job — bigger than all of the rest — is who you name manager. When you name the wrong person…nothing fixes that bad decision. Not compensation, not benefits — nothing.”

Jim Clifton, Gallup Chairman and CEO

Your “people owners” don’t necessarily have to be a partner, and many firms push people development down to the manager and even supervisor level. The more critical factor is that you choose individuals who have both skill and interest in people development. Not all of your leaders have an interest in developing other people or an ability to really dig in and discuss where an individual has been and is going in their career. Some leaders are more technically focused and less relatable, and the last thing they want to do (or should be doing) is serving as inspirer and motivator to a team of people.

Once you’ve identified those in your firm who are skilled people developers and you’ve assigned your team members to them, what does good people ownership really look like? When someone owns something in our organization, as we shared in Five Ways to Demonstrate True Ownership, it means they:

  • Do the thinking for the things that they own, so people developers:
    • Meet formally at least quarterly, and ideally check in at least monthly if not more frequently, to stay in touch and develop rapport, as well as to discuss how the various jobs are going and help remove any roadblocks the individual is experiencing
    • Have a good sense of where the team member is in their career progression and their goals and timing for it
    • Convey constructive feedback or more difficult messages to the team member so they are aware of their specific areas of improvement
  • Plan for the future of the things that they own, so people developers:
    • Determine how the team member fits into the short and long-term strategies for the department or group
    • Identify what’s next for this individual and the growth needed from them over the course of the next year (or other time period)
  • Enroll the ownership of others, so people developers:
    • Determine who they need to communicate with (the scheduler, the leaders in charge of client engagements) to map out the specific experiences this individual requires
    • Uncover feedback from other leaders to convey to the team member, and how to encourage other leaders to deliver their own feedback for more powerful impact
  • Communicate about the things they own, so people developers:
    • Are prepared to talk about the progression of assigned team members at departmental or other meetings where staff performance, progression or workload is discussed
    • Proactively reach out to fellow managers and partners to discuss assigned team members and how to work together to get them the experiences they need to improve and grow.
  • Take responsibility for the success or the failure of the areas they own, so people developers:
    • Work to understand effective engagement and retention strategies that motivate team members and share it with other leaders so the ideas can be applied to other team members in the firm
    • Develop a plan to get the team member back on track or transition them out of the organization
    • Work to understand what went wrong when a team member leaves
    • Recommend changes the firm needs to make to improve retention and discuss it with other firm leaders

As you can see, being an effective “people owner” takes time, so be sure you have clear expectations and allocate the appropriate time your people developers should be spending in this area. Because time is limited, they’ll need to focus less than other leaders in something – client service, chargeability, business development or other firm administrative functions – to truly focus on the right kind of people development activities you need to bring your team members along.

Ensuring one person is assigned to own each of your team members career development in your firm can effect tangible changes on the progression of your people. Take advantage of this people development “accelerator” today!




This popular blog from July 2016 was updated and published today because of its relevance to our many readers.