Finders, Minders and Binders

In a previous blog I referred to the classical categorisation of professionals:

  • Finders – who go out and find the new work
  • Minders – who look after the relationship with the clients
  • Grinders – who do the work
  • Binders – who keep the team working well together

It seems to me that most CPD is focused on enhancing one’s technical knowledge and skills ie: it helps us to become better ‘Grinders’. Beyond this there are some ‘soft skills’ courses but these are rarely tailored to the needs of individuals. This means that the effectiveness of such courses is variable.

The mentoring programme I have developed covers the Finding, Minding and Binding aspects of professional life. My research suggests that the key business skills that fall under these three headings can be summarised as follows:

Finding

  • Networking – meeting new people and generating work through those you meet;
  • Speaking in public – being confident and clear whether talking to small or large gatherings;
  • Pitching – asking for work or responding to invitations to tender;
  • Closing – gaining new work on acceptable terms;

Minding

  • Becoming a trusted adviser – understanding how to manage clients so as to encourage the right sort of referrals;
  • Handling tough clients – managing difficult relationships profitably;
  • Commercial billing – recognising the need to evidence value from the client’s perspective and appreciating the commercial value of our time;
  • Developing clients – identifying opportunities to encourage clients to instruct the firm re additional profitable services;

Binding

  • Managing teams – building trust, confidence and leadership potential;
  • Motivating staff – understanding common differences in behaviours, preferences and motivators;
  • Delegating – recognising the key elements of effective delegation and what can be delegated to increase efficiency;
  • Self/time management – avoiding common traps and keeping an effective work/life balance.

Where appropriate I am also able to lead group development sessions on each of the above topics.

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Mentoring or coaching ambitious accountants

Accountancy magazine (July 2006) ran an article “Coaching: the new religion”  written by Wilf Altman.  In it he suggested that ‘leading firms of  accountants are surprisingly coy about coaching.’

In my experience however all of the largest firms run partner development programs and most of these include a form of coaching or mentoring.  I agree with Wilf that there is no single definition of ‘coaching’ in the context of “the new religion”.  Many accountants have heard of life coaching, business coaching or success coaching.  We have probably also heard of mentoring – typically where a suitably senior person shares their experience and their wider knowledge of the profession to speed up the development of a less experienced person.

What the process is called however is less important than whether prospective partners and rising stars are motivated to enhance their skills. Most firms tend to rely on senior partners to act as coaches or a mentors.  In practice such partners rarely have the training, talent or time to be reliably effective in such roles.  The candidates cannot complain for fear of damaging their potential for progression and upsetting the senior partner.  The firms imply that the best candidates would take that chance but few people have the confidence that requires.

Increasingly therefore ambitious firms are engaging experienced credible mentors from outside the firm.  Mentors such as myself are not subject to conflicting time constraints or political manoeuvrings within the firm.   We are there for the candidates when required and can provide a tailored programme that includes coaching in those, generally non-technical, skills that the candidate needs to develop further.

Most firms that are not large enough to run their own internal partner development programmes are increasingly looking to find cost effective alternatives.  They want to ensure that their rising stars stay and develop the key business skills they require to be effective and profitable as partners.  Some firms may describe this as ‘coaching’. Others will see this as mentoring – which is possibly more relevant for all but the really experienced partners.  Offering new recruits the (tax-free) benefit of a credible mentor can also assist the recruitment process during the ongoing ‘war for talent’.

This entry was also submitted as a letter for Accountancy magazine and has now been published as such on p23 of the September issue.

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Mentoring prospective partners

I was a guest of Taxation magazine at their Annual Taxation awards ceremony last night. Big black-tie event at the Park Lane Hilton hotel. Met loads of people who had said they’d received my recent email newsletters and that they had not ‘removed’ themselves from my mailing list. Phew!

Sat next to a really nice guy who is the managing partner of a regional office of one of the top ten accountancy firms in the UK. He was very positive and enthusiastic about engaging me to mentor prospective partners in the firm.

He certainly seemed to buy into the proposition that it would benefit the firm and the individuals to engage me to help key mangers develop the business skills required for them to become valuable partners in the firm. He had some very complimentary things to say about me and how his firm could benefit from having me share my ’secrets’ with prospective partners.

He went further and commented that I could probably teach a number of the partners a thing or two too. Especially those partners who are good at the technical side of their role but perhaps less effective as regards the other aspects of their role.

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Facilitating partner meetings

Do any of the following sound familiar?

“Our partner meetings would be a lot more productive if they were chaired by an external facilitator.”

“If we let someone else chair the meetings then all partners could contribute equally.”

“Why don’t we ever stick to the agenda and remain focused on the important issues for the firm?

“Other firms involve external facilitators to run partner away days. Why don’t we find out why?”

It was hearing things like this that prompted me to reflect on one of my key achievements in recent years. I was appointed the Chairman of the MRI UK Tax working party in 2001. I was required to organise and chair regular meetings of anything from 12-25 tax partners from the various UK member firms of the MRI network of independent accounting practices. By all accounts I performed so well that many participants wanted me to retain the role even when I left the member firm and had no ongoing connection with MRI.

My facilitation experience goes much wider of course. It includes meetings and training sessions at what was Touche Ross (now Deloitte.), Clark Whitehill, BDO Stoy Hayward, Chiltern plc and the ICAEW Tax Faculty where I was appointed Chairman from 2003-2005.

I suspect that most people would agree that an experienced external facilitator can help ensure that teams can reach higher levels of achievement. When the facilitator has, as I do, significant relevant experience and is willing to share the benefits of his background in a supportive and constructive manner, so much the better.

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