Don't walk away from difficult partners

Difficult partners come in many guises and present numerous risks to a firm. If not dealt with effectively the risks will increase. So, how is it best to deal with them from a HR perspective?

As LLP partners will be aware, the risks and challenges resulting from difficult partners include: lowering firm or team performance, reduced employee engagement and motivation, loss of reputation and legal or financial liabilities such as discrimination claims or disputes. Although there may be a desire to ignore and avoid dealing with difficult partners, putting off or prolonging tackling the problem only makes problems worse and potentially harder to solve.

But what makes a partner difficult?

While the list of reasons here can be lengthy, typically, they fall into one of two camps – underperforming partners and rogue partners. The former is self-explanatory and would cover consistently failing to deliver against their targets. The latter might include partners who do not follow established procedures, have poor control of client accounts, raise disputes or those who act in their own interests rather than those of the firm.

HR driven solutions

There are a range of ways that difficult partners can be dealt with through HR. Problems can arise  at the recruitment or promotion stages where, perhaps blinded by the income promised or demonstrated by the difficult individual, partnerships bring in lateral hires or promote existing employees into these senior positions despite previous warning signs – leaving the firm exposed to risk. The solution here is to have a strategically led and robust recruitment or promotion process which might include psychometric assessment, competency based questions, behavioural profiling and clearly defined targets for performance and behaviour.

It might seem obvious but having properly drafted policies for performance and behaviour for the partnership is key. It isn’t uncommon for partnerships to have these firmly in place for employees but not for the equity owners. Also be sure to cover methods of exiting partners in the LLP agreement to protect the firm if things go awry and become unresolvable.

Having established defined performance targets which cover more than just income and profitability, regular performance appraisal against objectives and clear regular communication to manage expectations is essential. Managing Partners and executive committees can struggle here. Some find it hard to deliver a robust appraisal or performance management process for their peers despite having such mechanisms in place for employees.

If the appraisal process brings up areas that can be improved through executive coaching or a development programme, be clear and provide unequivocal benchmarks for the programme to achieve and build this back into the review process.

Are clients happy with the difficult partner? Building in client assessment or feedback into the appraisal process is best practice. Clients can provide a unique perspective on the individual in question. So too can staff – having a properly run 360 appraisal process where results are fed back by a qualified professional provides further evidence of development requirements which can be tackled in appraisals.

When tempers fray and communication gets heated, expert mediation or conflict management can help. This should be delivered by an independent and objective specialist and can smooth troubled waters, enabling the performance management to get back on track.

If more formal disputes or grievances arise investigations should not be shied away from and should also be delivered by an independent expert to ensure objectivity and accuracy.

While this is a very brief overview of what can be done to manage difficult partners, the message is to never walk away from dealing with them as the liability won’t go away and may harm the firm further down the line.

About Buzzacott HR Consultancy

We deliver a broad range of solutions to help you improve your organisation’s performance through your people. Depending on your requirements, we can either supplement your existing HR provision or manage it as an entirely outsourced function. We also offer wide-ranging Learning & Development (L&D) programmes to help your partners and employees reach their full potential. Please get in contact if you required tailored advice.

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Our professional practices team are ready with answers on audit, financing, tax compliance and all the other issues you face. Talk to them and profit from our familiarity with your sector. You’ll save time, reduce risk and build a dependable relationship with a team who want your business to succeed just as much as you do.

Professional practices we work with:


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As well as assisting with the financial aspects of your business, we work with firms on their business strategy. This includes growth plans, budgeting, forecasting and cash flow management. In addition to this, our specialist R&D tax team can assist with your research and development tax claims. This is an important and ever growing area within the architecture industry and a talented R&D team is essential in preparing a robust application leading to a successful claim.

Surveyors and engineers

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Experienced support for professional practices

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  • A one-stop shop: find all your accounting, tax, VAT, payroll and HR requirements within one firm
  • Tax planning for partners
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  • Employee ownership structures
  • Mergers, acquisitions and bolt-ons: talk to us about valuing your firm and how to carry out effective due diligence on potential mergers.

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