Have you ever watched Dora the Explorer?  My two year old went through a Dora phase a few months ago… and to my surprise, I had an epiphany!

Dora does an amazing job of making it excruciatingly clear what’s going to happen through repetition and inclusion of the viewer in the story as it is planned and as it unfolds.  This is what leaders in professional services firms should be doing with their rising stars on their path to partnership.

A Dora episode starts out in some ordinary scenario – let’s say Dora and her monkey friend, Boots, are just walking down the path in the woods – when all of a sudden a baby blue bird falls out of a tree.  Oh no!   They want to help the blue bird find its nest (that is not close by) so they ask the bird what it knows about its home.  A commitment gets made to help the bird get home.

How do you find out how to get somewhere (like a bird’s nest) if you don’t know where it is?  You ask the Map!   Cue catchy song “If there’s a place you want to go, I’m the one you need to know!  I’m the Map!”  Dora then asks the viewer to talk to the Map and find out how to get to the desired destination.  The Map is amazing communicator… he verbally and visually provides three distinct destination milestones along the way so you’ll know you’re on the right path and you’ll recognize that you’re making progress. Dora then helps the viewer to tell her how to get there and the route is repeated a few times by everyone.  This helps build camaraderie and cements the plan.

Next, Dora, Boots, and the baby blue bird set out on their journey!    One after another the destination milestones are found and some adventure ensues – like finding a key for a lock or putting the right number of wooden planks on a bridge over a river.  Everyone helps and sometimes new friends arrive just in time… perhaps that nice parrot nearby will help you lift those boards out of the river and onto the bridge if you ask nicely (in Spanish).   All the while we’re aware that the sneaky fox, Swiper, could be nearby and derail the plan.  That key you were looking for?  If Swiper grabs it, he’ll throw it into a giant pile of keys making the task of opening the locked door far more difficult!  (Yes, suspension of disbelief is a requirement of adults watching this show.)  Of course, with some group effort that includes the viewer, you can keep Swiper at bay by saying “Swiper no swiping!” three times.

Finally, the Dora, Boots and the blue bird reach the nest and the blue bird is reunited with the relieved mama bird.   Dora then celebrates with a group dance party and, finally, asks Boots and the viewer about your “favorite part” of the journey, followed by sharing her favorite part.

What is the point of this 450 word overview of a Dora episode?   This show has so many great elements of communication, leadership, teaching, and team building.  THIS is how clear your firm’s path to partnership needs to be.  My two year old should be able to follow along and know his role very clearly.  And he should be excited to participate.

In this story your rising star is the blue bird, your Managing Partner or Executive Committee is the Map, a mentor or career advisor is Dora, and perhaps HR is Boots.   The “parrot” along the way might be an outside party who gives an emotional or mentor-type boost from time to time.

Your rising star should feel like there is:

  1. A very clear and agreed upon goal along with an understanding of why success is important to all involved.
  2. A painstakingly laid out and documented path with interim milestones that everyone understands.
  3. A team so the journey is not undertaken alone.
  4. Helpers along the way and provide resources, encouragement, or assistance as needed.
  5. A celebration that includes fun, thoughtful reflection and inclusion of all stakeholders.

I don’t mean to be condescending in comparing your firm to a Dora the Explorer episode.  By and large firms are doing a good job of ushering their professionals from staff to manager level…. It’s the next leap that is a mystery to most (dare I say, even to the partners).  In SO MANY firms I know, great employees feel adrift after the shine of obtaining the Manager title wears off, which is incredibly demotivating.  They don’t know where to focus their time or how to gain the skills they lack (and that’s if they are even self-aware enough to know which skills they lack).   This isn’t a new problem so perhaps you’ve already seen people leave the firm in search of greener pastures, plug along and cross their fingers, make ultimatums putting you on their timetable, or succumb to frustration and eventually poison the well with negativity.

Creating a PERSONALIZED path to partnership for EACH person who expresses interest is a huge undertaking.  But you’re going to have to sell your shares someday and you’ll feel better doing that if the next generation is primed and ready to hit the ground running.  Good  luck!

Hey CPAs!  Join me at the MSCPA’s MAP Conference in late November for more on this topic including milestone ideas.


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Alison has more than fifteen years of professional services marketing and business development experience. She is a Boston College Double Eagle, holding both a BS in Management with concentrations in Marketing & Information Systems, and an MBA. Alison is a member of the 2009 Boston Business Journal’s 40 Under 40 class of honorees.