PracticeAccounting FirmsTime to master your delegation skills

Time to master your delegation skills

In the recent ICAEW report, The Profitable and Sustainable Practice, we emphasised the importance of delegation skills in a professional firm and noted how often accountants seem unable to master this skill.

Accountants, in my opinion, generally have perfectionist tendencies, and as a result feel they are the only people who can do the work. Partners can often be found doing low-level stuff, which they rationalise in terms of not having the time to explain an assignment to somebody else, or to coach them, arguing that it’s quicker to do these tasks themselves.

In these risk-averse times, it seems we are all scared of unforeseen negligence claims, and therefore want to get into the detail of many tasks to ensure that the technical aspects have been dealt with to our own high standards.

Assuming you’re not the partner who was responsible for hiring the staff in the first place, how easy is it to argue that the team members are not quite up to the job you need done?

Efficient practice management requires the people at the top of the tree, usually the partners, to be good at coaching and mentoring – skills that don’t come easy to the accountant’s mindset. Those who are good at coaching are very often the best at delegating as well. The two skills usually go hand in hand. Essentially those who see the benefits in coaching are the first to appreciate the abilities of those being coached, and therefore most likely to be confident in delegating.

If you’re aware of being a poor delegator, try delegating parts of a task and coach subordinates until the parts are done well before handing over a full assignment.

If you’re concerned the work may not be done to your high standards, formally identify risks with individuals and get them to focus on developing their skills in these areas.

Good leaders take risks with their people to help them grow and develop, but teach them well and work with them before they fly solo.

If you’re not confident in your people, you need to carefully assess their strengths and weaknesses, and gradually build confidence in the areas in which they perform well, while identifying training needs in those areas in which they do less well.

The effect on profit and in particular on recovery rates, as a result of delegating effectively, can be dramatic. Partner charge-out rates are high, and can only be sustained by ensuring partners restrict themselves to carrying out work appropriate to their experience and abilities. Taking on board a willingness to delegate effectively and learning the skills to do so, is a very cost-effective use of your time.

For a more in-depth exploration of this subject, look out for a book being published shortly on leadership in the professions by Geoff Smith, a management consultant and lecturer, whose advice proved extremely helpful to me in the period that I served as managing partner of my firm.

  • Send in your questions for our adviser panel of experts on matters relating to small practices by emailing adviser@accountancyage.com.

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