In my 20 years of working with professionals, there are 3 things that consistently matter in making partner. Most people think that the only thing that matters is revenue targets but that is not the case. For most firms, revenue is only one part of the three-legged stool.
1. The first leg in the stool is “fit’ into the partnership. Fit seems nebulous, but it is critically important. Every partnership has a set of core values and a culture that partners adhere to. Core values are the glue that holds a firm together, allowing partners to feel confident that their fellow partners will behave in the best interest of the firm. This values alignment also facilitates trust and allows the sharing of client relationships. Sometimes the culture and values are explicit (see McKinsey’s here), sometimes not. A rogue partner who has misaligned values can cause risk issues for the firm, loss of talent and loss of clients. Partners who don’t fit will not be successful and will also not be happy. So fit is critical to the firm’s and a partner’s success.
2. Leg two of the stool is talent development. Successful partners develop younger people into managers or senior staff and eventually into partners. Strong junior talent is necessary to allow partners to operate at the right level but also to provide a pipeline of partner talent as the firm grows and partners leave. One of our clients calls this talent development process “stewardship”, taking care of something and preserving it for future generations. This shows how important talent is for the future of the firm. People who make partner have demonstrated that they can spot talent, further develop that talent and advocate for promotions and assignments for their talented people.
3. Firms can’t survive without revenue. Partners need to keep themselves and a large group of professionals busy. And they must demonstrate that they can do this over their career as a partner. Every firm has either explicitly stated or implied revenue targets for partners. Most people promoted to partner have demonstrated that they can meet those revenue targets over several years. Successful partner candidates will also have demonstrated the ability to create new client relationships, expand offerings into existing clients and provide opportunities to other partners or staff. These skills ensure future revenue growth for the firm.
A partner candidate who consistently demonstrates all three legs of the stool – fit into the partnership, development of more junior talent and the ability to meet revenue targets is most likely to be promoted. And, more importantly, most likely to have a long and successful career as a partner.