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How to Help Your Successor Succeed

You've worked hard and earned an excellent reputation in your firm. Now, as you're looking to make the next career step, you need to ensure your successor is prepared to fill your shoes.

Being able to advance in your career requires pulling from a bench of talent to fill your current role successfully. When you start to think about the transition you're going to make, don't just focus on your own readiness. Training your successor should be one of your top priorities.

Helping your successor succeed

There are a variety of ways to set up the team members coming up behind you for success. Succession planning isn't just for partners and managers — it applies to all levels of the firm. Even if you're not the person in charge of hiring and promoting, continually focusing on a succession plan and helping the next level prepare to take on more responsibility will help you grow as a professional as well.

Here's how to do it.

Document and improve your processes

If you don't have standardized, documented processes, now is the time to start. Set aside time to go through the tasks, projects and engagements you work on and break them down into steps. Document the steps you take and any tools or other people involved.

This is crucial for client engagements, such as audit, tax, client accounting services and advisory, but it's also important for other areas of the firm, such as client or employee onboarding, billing, etc.

When you have efficient, effective and documented processes in place, it's much easier for you to hand off responsibility to a successor and ensure that client engagements and other projects keep moving forward.

Follow the four-step training model

The four-step training model is a proven method for transferring knowledge.

  1. I do, you watch. Have your successor observe you accomplishing tasks and handling client meetings. Make time to debrief at the end to discuss what worked, what didn't, and what can be improved next time.

  2. I do, you help. Give your successor ownership over a small aspect of your responsibilities. You maintain responsibility, but they provide assistance. Once complete, be sure to debrief again and discuss how it went and any areas of improvement.

  3. You do, I help. Allow your successor to take responsibility for the project or task, with you there to assist and answer questions. Again, talk afterward to see how the experience went and discuss any areas for increased learning.

  4. You do, I watch. Finally, have your successor take on the day-to-day responsibilities of your role. Let them fulfill all the functions of leading the client meeting or completing the engagement. You'll watch and discuss once the observation period is over.

Provide formal professional development opportunities

Technical skills aren't enough to advance in a modern CPA firm. Professionals need to be active listeners, adept communicators, project managers and collaborators.

If your successor is technically proficient but needs to work on their core success skills, ensure they have access to resources to develop those skills. That may come in the form of one-on-one mentoring or professional development courses. Work with them to find those resources, make a plan and allow them time to focus on developing those skills.

Explain everything

Even if your transition is a way off, you can start helping your successor succeed by explaining why things are done in the way they are. When we're handing off tasks or projects, we often explain how to do them, but not why they're done in that way. Giving your successor an explanation of why everything operates the way it does can help them understand the bigger picture.

Note: "Because we've always done it that way" isn't a valid explanation.

As you look towards that next promotion, make training and mentoring your successor a priority. Offering this support to your successor before you move up will ensure that when you take the next step, you'll have someone ready to support your transition and continue the excellent example you've set for them.


Is your firm ready to stop wasting time on inconsistent and bloated processes?

Boomer Process Consulting can help you create a lasting process improvement strategy that frees up the capacity to deliver higher-value services to your clients. Schedule a discovery call today to start seeing real results.


As Shareholder and Consultant for Boomer Consulting, Inc., Arianna Campbell helps accounting firms challenge the status quo by leading process improvement initiatives that result in increased profitability and client satisfaction. She also facilitates the development and cultivation of future firm leaders in The P3 Leadership Academy™ Academy. Internally, she blends concepts from Lean Six Sigma and leadership development to drive innovation and continuous improvement within the company. Arianna also enjoys the opportunity to share knowledge through regular contributions to the Boomer Bulletin and other industry-wide publications, as well as public speaking at industry conferences.

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