We work in a profession in which recruitment and promotion are traditionally based on technical excellence. Training is often provided for professional exams but little else. The focus is largely on Gross Recurring Fees (GRF) or chargeable hours. The focus on developing teams often falls solely on leaders who already have a thousand things to do, causing it to be neglected.
I have been sceptical of the merits of this approach for 23 years. My scepticism was forged by my own experiences – memories that have stuck with me and that inform our desire at Armadillo to help those who find themselves stuck in this cycle of struggle.
When you only train a team in technical skills, work may seem to be good but morale will be poor.
23 years ago I was a young(ish!) tax specialist in a top 6 firm. I was ambitious and had already moved from Private Client to Corporate Tax looking for a path to promotion. I was moved into the Audit & Accounts Department to improve efficiency and integration of the Corporate Tax practice with our audit and accounting colleagues.
Deposited on a desk in the corner of a large open plan room, I was supplanted into a “team” – though I use that term only in its loosest sense. Three Senior Audit/Accounts Managers sat behind closed doors with their teams, while three Managers sat in a large room outside in hushed silence.
It quickly became apparent to me that it was not a happy ship. It was an environment forged under the pressure of long hours and a focus on GRF and billable time. Such was the desire to be seen to be working long and hard, some jackets never left the backs of chairs.
● Late-night pizza deliveries were common. Mainly to the most senior members who took on the work their more junior colleagues had been unable to complete (because they were given neither the training, confidence nor tools to do so).
● The focus on output (completed accounts, billable hours etc) led to the most ‘productive’ being given even bigger portfolios. Work was taken off those perceived to be less effective (but who were often those winning work).
● Bigger portfolios meant more billable hours, increasing GRF and more pressure.
● All of which led to junior team members working long hours but not charging time for fear of “breaking the budget”.
Recoveries were deceptively good. But morale was terrible. Those with the largest portfolios were promoted (despite not giving even the merest hint that they had the interpersonal skills to teach or lead) and they piled the pressure on to those beneath them. Some survived (I wouldn’t say flourished) but many unhappy junior staff left as soon as they could. The expense of their professional training wasted because their personal development and the environment in which they worked were neglected.
This left only people who largely mirrored those above them; technically proficient hard workers, oblivious to the consequences of team morale, staff wastage and the firm’s failure to retain the best and brightest who wanted to do it another way.
Intent on maintaining recoveries and focused solely on GRF the senior team doubled down on hours and took more and more upon themselves because they had neither the time, inclination or skills to train those below them. They wondered why pipelines dried up and new work was not being won.
Instead of investing in developing teams with the right training, they focused their attention on another portfolio reallocation. Work was taken from those winning it, with fewer billable hours and lower recoveries, and given to those who had shown the capacity to suck it up and spit out the work.
Rinse and repeat.
When you don’t instill the right mindset within the firm and team, you get stuck in a cycle of struggle.
We meet firms stuck in the same cycle of struggle.
1. They struggle to instill the right mindset within the firm and team
2. They lack the confidence to invest in tools and people
3. Their people then are ill-equipped to win and retain work
4. This impacts morale and confidence. The quality of work drops further and people leave
5. The partner takes on more work, fills the gaps and it starts again
Does any of this feel depressingly familiar? Don’t worry. There is a better way. One focused on the developing staff behaviours and personal skills. One which would give them the confidence and tools to better manage workloads; train those charged with managing staff how to do so effectively and all how to develop networks, identify leads and win work. The Armadillo way.
I sat on the edges of that room for what felt a lifetime, working in a “team” but never truly in it. Eventually, one day I walked into the office of a newly-joined Partner I’d yet to meet and simply asked if he had a job in the new department he had set up. And never looked back.
At the same time that I sat on the edge of that room, there was another manager; one a great deal more engaging and outgoing.
● Who did not spend 15 hours a day in the office
● Who took time to help and encourage junior team members – helping to train them and praising and rewarding good work, rather than just volume.
● Who encouraged staff to charge their full time (which affected recoveries on his portfolio)
● Who had great relationships with people within other departments of the firm, with clients and referrers.
● Who was repeatedly passed over for promotion in favour of those who lacked all of the skills he had, because his focus on others meant that he did not have the most billable hours, or highest GRF.
We became friends and have been so for more than 20 years.
Fortunately, someone with foresight and a desire to break the cycle of struggle took that manager who had nurtured his team and moved him into a full-time training and development role. Value was placed on proper non-technical training, on personal development and accountability and rewards were introduced for actions that could not be measured in a P&L. An investment was made in people. As the team developed, staff morale improved, staff retention rates increased, recruitment agency spend fell, new work was won and better clients retained.
As the new department I had joined grew from 2 to more than 30 people we benefited from that training. From a different approach. We took it upon ourselves to break the cycle (even if other departments took longer to see the light!). I was lucky to be part of a great team. One where the “stars” were allowed to shine. Where those with the attributes the leaders lacked were not seen as a threat but as essential. We recognised that different things motivated different people; one which rewarded excellence in different areas.
Those experiences forged the Armadillo Academy. With our help and training, you can build better, more resilient teams, improve morale and lift some of the burdens from your own shoulders. We can take some of the burdens of developing teams to help you. We can also help you develop.
Breaking the cycle requires developing teams with the right training, tools and mindset.
That requires your commitment. A commitment to help us to help you.
The Armadillo Academy training programme will help you and your developing team to break the cycle I experienced and which many firms are stuck in. Our training covers many of the areas I relied on to build a great team.
Our training offers you the chance to work on developing teams. Giving them the non-technical training needed to develop rounded business advisors; capable of engaging with clients and contacts, of identifying and winning new work. Of mentoring and leading their colleagues and ultimately developing a team capable of taking more work off your plate. To allow you to make your choices about the clients you have, the work you do. And when. There is a better way. The Armadillo way.