The ICAEW have confirmed that while technical competence is important, the majority of qualified accountants lack the core competency skills necessary to succeed in the workplace. This is according to their survey of CFOs, FDs and senior partners. What came out as critically important were three skills that are reflected in many practice ‘Competency sets’ – Leadership, Commercial Awareness and Entrepreneurship.
As we have seen in every firm, from accountants to solicitors and consultants to architects, technical ability is not the key skill to determine long term success in your professional career. Technical expertise can get you as far as a being an Associate or a good manager but once you have shown you can do the technical (grunt) work, the qualities that set leaders apart is their emotional intelligence. Clients often view a technical expert as an expensive but necessary cost. They hate paying the fees but know that they either have no choice (audit) or could face greater risks (commercial law) if they don’t.
However, what makes a professional advisor stand out when they talk to their clients is when they really understand their commercial perspective and can ask penetrating questions that make a client stop and think. When you can provide a client with a great idea – either how to build their business, avoid an unseen risk or dissuade them from making a costly error – then you become that Holy Grail – A Trusted Adviser!
A client once described this to me as “The ability to help clients see around corners…” For many advisors it’s as much about supporting their clients in what they want to do as it is being a person who is unafraid to challenge their point of view. Many directors at the top of the client’s organisation do not have the willpower to do it as they see it as potentially career limiting but if you are to be trusted, then its necessary to show backbone.Understand that clients want to pay their advisors for their opinions. Not for their summary of the legal or ethical challenges that are being faced. People are already struggling with that and want guidance on how to navigate the challenge form someone who may have seen it before.
We have recently been running the Managing Partner programme for the ICAEW this year and one of the delegates shared that for them it is often the case that they have actually ‘seen it all before’ and their advice is borne from two decades of advisory work with clients, having traded through two recessions and come out the other side of both.
And this is where we see an area that is never addressed. You cannot afford to wait for 20 years for senior fee earners to amass the knowledge they need, build their confidence in having broad conversations and enable them to focus on commercial issues. This education is available immediately! But it requires careful planning in order to ensure every fee earner gets exposure to a range of the firm’s services and understands the three key building blocks:
All this needs to be wrapped up – cocooned, if you will, in a desire to learn about a client’s business. The essential ingredient is curiosity and without it, your conversations could be nothing more than a dry, stilted, dialog about service provision that leads nowhere.
So your first step is to ask yourself whether your senior fee earners have a level of curiosity about their clients that spreads beyond their own service line and area of technical expertise. Because a technical expert is easy to find. But to wrap that into a curious individual who wants to discuss issues with a client that may not have a simple resolution – now that’s a rare find.
Unless of course, you call us and discuss how we can help your team be curious…Want to find out how?