Succession planning is a continuing challenge for accounting firm owners and leaders. According to Accounting Today, 50% of firm owners have no exit plan, and 30% think they have a plan but don’t have execution steps.
While there is real value in having a formal, strategic succession plan, you could be in a much better position if you build a firm of leaders who are always preparing to step into their next role.
Why build a firm of leaders
When a partner or manager is ready to retire or accepts a position with another firm, you generally have two choices: you can search for a replacement in the marketplace, which is extremely challenging. Or you can build leaders within your firm. The second option is always preferable because it supports a culture of growth. Plus, it’s usually much less expensive.
The problem is that many firms prioritize technical skills early in a team member’s career. So when it’s time for them to move from delivering client engagements to managing and mentoring others and developing new business, they run into trouble.
Skills of a leader
Every individual is unique and brings their own skills, perspectives, and style to a leadership position. Still, there are several things most of us want from a leader:
Someone who is knowable, likable and respected
Someone who makes others feel important and valued
Someone who is accountable, consistent and reliable, but flexible when needed
How to build leaders
Here are tips for incorporating a culture of leadership in your firm.
Think of your firm hierarchy as a spiderweb rather than a ladder
The traditional metaphor for developing a career is the ladder, where rewards, power, access to information and influence tie directly to the rung a person occupies.
However, a better way to think about your firm today is a spiderweb, where ideas, development and recognition flow where they need to along several paths. This spiderweb structure makes possible more collaborative work and earlier development of crucial soft skills.
Boomer Consulting does this well. We have a very collaborative way of working together, where everyone is involved in decision-making.
For example, our annual strategic planning meetings don’t involve just executives and consultants. All employees are involved in setting goals for the year, assigning tasks and due dates and ensuring we’re doing what it takes to reach those goals. I’ve found this process to be extremely helpful in my development, as it gives me insight into the thought process of leaders you just don’t get in many organizations.
Give trust to get trust
In many organizations, employees have to be with the organization for years to be trusted with things like making bank deposits, handling important client communications, etc. While deep levels of trust take time to develop, it’s essential to start demonstrating confidence in your team members right away. Trust is the basis for all leadership behaviors you want to build in your team, including independent thinking, creativity, courage and self-management.
In short, when you trust people to do what they’re supposed to be doing, they’re more likely to trust firm leaders in return and demonstrate the qualities of a competent leader.
Handoff authority and responsibility
Handing off authority without responsibility is a common problem in firms with inconsistent leadership. When people are given responsibility without sufficient authority, they likely won’t perform to the best of their ability and may fail to accomplish the task at all.
When delegating work, make sure you’re handing off responsibility and giving people the authority – the appropriate power to use time and organizational resources to get the job done. That kind of delegation frees up the capacity of leaders and enhances the recipient’s leadership capacity.
Building a firm of leaders isn’t easy, and it won’t happen overnight. Leadership development programs help reinforce leadership skills, but it still takes time and consistent effort. However, if you continually create a culture of leadership in your organization, you’ll build leaders internally and attract high-quality people.
Do you want to turn your firm’s new partners and managers into confident and capable leaders? The Boomer Leadership Academy is a leadership development program designed specifically for new partners, managers, C-Suite professionals and administrators at CPA firms. Register now so the emerging leaders in your firm can begin performing at a higher level.
As a Solutions Advisor for Boomer Consulting, Inc., Kylie Pruser is excited about engaging with clients, helping them solve their problems, enrich their businesses and grow. Her primary focus is on communities, including the Boomer Technology Circles.