How firm owners can, and should, increase their time on (chargeable time)

In the last issue we looked at my recommend that 2021 should see partners stretching to deliver increased time on. The bottom line this year is that time on for firm owners should not be less than 1,000 house per annum. I suggested five key steps to take to increase chargeable hours – if you missed these then look at my last blog here. In this issue we look more closely at how that can be achieved and the type of work we engage in. 

Managing partner hours

But before we look more closely at this I must respond to Don, from New Zealand who asked what his target hours should be as the Managing Partner of an 8-person firm. Good question, thanks. It depends on how many partners there are and so this is just a general guideline. 

A typical range of hours for a Managing Partner is somewhere in the region of 600 per annum. Fewer than 6-8 partners and that number might nudge up a little while more than eight and that number might be slightly less – say 500.

I recall working with one Managing Partner who had 98 partners spread across the country (a distance of 3,000 miles or 5,500 km). He viewed his 98 partners as his clients and it was his role to direct, encourage, mentor, and on occasions, reprimand them. He told me, however, that he regarded it as massively important to account for a minimum of 10 chargeable hours a year.

Contrast that with another client, James, who was the Managing Partner of a 7-partner firm in London, UK. He came to me after one seminar and asked me to consult with his firm. He was accounting for more hours (900) than any of his co-partners but admitted that he was not committing the time to managing the firm that he knew it required. He could see no likelihood that this would change in the forthcoming three months and consequently asked if I would work with the partners monthly to direct them, encourage them and hold them accountable. That engagement lasted for over four years.

I trust my response to Don and the story of James adds some further perspective, if you are the firm’s Managing Partner.

The 1000+ hours and the hierarchy of time

There are three types of time on, and I discuss these in order of reverse importance.

1 Desk time

This is the first type of activity that results in time on. Important as it is, it is the least of the time on types we will discuss – and there are only three types of time-on hours. This is time occupied in the office, behind the desk. The client doesn’t see what you are doing. That is not to say that value isn’t being created – I have no doubt it is. The question to ask is – “can you delegate this work to others?” In answer to this question at seminars, “How much of your work could be delegated?” The answer is usually somewhere between 20-40 per cent. So why not delegate? What is stopping you? The belief that no one else could do the work? Well, train your team members – they will appreciate the higher level of responsibility that is being asked of them. “But they will take longer,” you might think. Maybe, the first time they do the work but when they have the opportunity to repeat this work they will be quicker. In any event, their charge rate may well be half yours so even if they take twice as long the value of the time on remains the same.

Another reason for not delegating is that some people, even though they complain, actually like having the pressure of work. But is this the right type of work? Read on.

Key Point: Determine to be a delegator and free yourself up for the second and third levels of time-on.

2 Team time

We will now explore the power of team time. 

I have consulted with firms where all the partners are on one floor and the staff on two or more floors. That divide can result in some partners never crossing over into the arena they themselves trained in. They miss having ears close to the ground and judging the firm’s team-temperature. They miss out on brief moments of interaction. They miss out on engaging with those who work for them. Sad.

Your firm owner team should all be committed to investing (note, not spending) time with staff. Here are some activities that will help develop your team, boost morale, and provide opportunities for downloading wisdom and expertise.

Time with staff

  1. Remember the lessons from the management gurus of the past? Tom Peters in his 1982 book, ‘In Search of Excellence’ highlighted the importance of MBWA – Management By Wandering About. As Crocodile Dundee said – “Go walkabouts.” First thing in the morning is one possibility. Maybe come in early and find the staff that are also in early doors. When consulting with one client in South Africa I know that if I was in at 6am I would be able to chat with Pierre, who was one of the managers – letting him know that he was important to me and for just a few moments listening to him and encouraging him.
  1. Make it a rule for every firm owner to find out three personal things about every team member they work with. Get to know them as people. Their interest, hobbies. Even travel plans as we all dream of being able to catch up on travel plans laid aside in 2020. 
  1. Spend time before a job starts just sharing insights about the client, or, if appropriate, briefing them on the job. This is valuable time on.
  1. Finally, involve staff in the reviewing of their work and do it as soon as you can after the job is concluded. If you are signing off work that has been reviewed by a manager, why not either bring the Senior into the signing off meeting or at least let them know you were pleased with their work? Be an encourager and find people doing things right as opposed to pointing out their errors or shortfalls. Again, this is valuable time on.

The third time on I will discuss in my next blog.