Being incompetent has its advantages


One of the great challenges for firm leaders is to be able to delegate effectively. It is critical that they do so. Most often capacity shortages are highest for the senior people in the practice. Delegation is enabled by good processes and training. Well documented processes enable less experienced team members to follow the documented steps which are supplemented by checklists and other tools to assist them in completing the work. Great training programs equip team members to take on more challenging work. These things should enable delegation and often they do, but it is also the case that delegation still doesn’t occur.

It doesn’t occur for a variety of reasons.

  1. Firm leaders believing that clients always wish to speak to them
  2. Firm leaders feeling that by the time they showed others how to do the work they could have done it faster themselves
  3. Firm leaders not trusting the competency of team members

READ: Fashioning the Connected Practice

Some of these things can be partially overcome by improvements in process documentation and training but the bigger challenge is to change the mindset of the team leader. Team leaders need to be prepared to spend time with their team to coach and mentor them so that they can develop the skills so that delegation can occur. Then the team leader needs to be willing to take some risk. They need to give the team member a chance to perform and be there to provide advice and additional training when errors are made. If the team member is unable to do the work the question needs to be asked as to whether the firm has the right training programme or the right team members.

Of course process and training does not address the issue of the client wanting to talk to the practice leader. This is where incompetence has its advantages.

When I was a business services partner at one stage of my career, it was necessary for me to transition my clients to others in the firm (so I could build the technology business). One way that I found gave clients confidence was to tell them that the people I was moving them to was more competent than I was (generally it was the truth). I found that the clients were generally very accepting. It was the confidence I showed in the others that made all the difference.

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I have seen in a growing number of practice leaders successfully transitioning the “compliance relationship” to other team members while continuing to maintain the “advisory relationship” with the client. This approach brings benefits to the firm, team members and the client. Capacity is freed up at the senior levels in the firm where capacity is generally tightest. The client wins by having a relationship with more than one person which results in faster response times. Team members win from greater responsibilities, challenges and client contact.

Seems like a good result all round to me.