In a large accounting & advisory firm, a partner is the captain of the ship, handling the most complex matters, developing business, thinking strategically about growing the business and delegating thoughtfully to 12 to 15 staff members from director to entry-level who gain strong experiential learning from this model.
In a regional accounting & advisory firm, partners do a much larger percentage of the actual work and are often reluctant to trust their staffs in the same way that large firms do. The staff-to-partner ratio generally varies between 4:1 and 5:1. As one partner recently summed it up over lunch: “the big firms run a pyramid, we run a pancake.”
In fact, the headcount numbers in this leverage model make good sense given the differences in the work mixes of the respective firms. There’s a different aspect of leverage that needs to be recognized by regional firms: partner time. These firms rarely have more than 80 partners, and that can be on the high side. When the partners do a disproportionate amount of the work because they have not developed their staffs to the point where they can trust them, they are not using not using the firm’s two most valuable assets — partners and staff — optimally. This often leads to partner burn-out, staff apathy and falling short of the firm’s growth potential.
The solution is to commit to focused staff development at all levels anchored in experiential learning and focused mentoring. Focused staff development needs to be a long-term commitment. If it’s done right, the difference in staff ability and motivation will be strikingly visible within the first year.