By Ben Hamrick, CPA
After the (literal) blood, sweat, and tears owners put into a firm, it can be hard to walk away. However, it is much harder to plan for retirement if succession planning has not been embedded into firm culture. Most often, the legacy an owner wants to leave on a firm is that it can withstand multiple generations.
Succession planning starts early in one’s own career and the path to great success is having a strong team along the way. The key is to identify several strong candidates and invest the time and resources to develop them into professionals who can lead a firm in the future. Though we firm leaders often come up short on planning for succession, the general approach is not necessarily complicated—but it does require intentionality and consistency. There are several excellent resource materials and consultants that can be helpful in planning for succession. In the remainder of this article, I will share with you several points that you might consider.
- Hire and identify young professionals who have critical thinking skills and leadership potential. These candidates can be straight out of college or experienced hires with real-life experiences.
- As talent is identified, include them. Involve them in meetings with clients, business associates, and referral sources. Take them to community and professional events and introduce them to key players in your market. They will benefit immensely as will the firm by building depth of the client service team for clients and associates.
- Invest in leadership programs. Define what leadership skills are necessary to move the firm forward and provide a roadmap for upcoming leaders. These skills should challenge current leaders as well. It is important to bring different skills to the table and push everyone to continually improve. Involvement, feedback, and daily interactions are key.
- As the new leader progresses, push them outside of their comfort zone and be willing to grant some authority to them. Leaders are constantly faced with challenges. Allow these professionals opportunities to use critical-thinking skills and common sense to face these matters. Showing trust in them is extremely important. This involves being willing for them to do something differently than you may have. There may be mistakes along the way but use those times to provide direction and feedback. It can be a great development experience that builds steppingstones for their career.
- Stay involved with the new leaders consistently. Not necessarily to give direction but to discuss client matters and firm matters. They will see that they matter to you and the firm. Be mindful not to just stack work on them and not stay invested. Help them to get involved with professional and community organizations that will help them grow, while also benefiting the firm.
- Expect candidates to develop others. Impress upon them that they should provide opportunities to those coming into the firm while they are on the roadmap to leadership as well. The benefits of leadership develop apply to all generations within the firm and should be expected by all, as applicable.
In my professional career, the thing that I find most satisfying professionally is seeing young people progress in their careers and to have had some hand in helping them along. A true measure of success is when you dedicate the time to developing candidates, and then see them become leaders within the firm as well as the community. Clients value them and staff depend on their leadership and guidance. For firms that truly have succession as part of their overall culture, it is a fluid activity that everyone participates in and all generations within the firm benefit.