How to build the future of your firm
What’s the secret to a long-lasting, sustainable firm? In the accounting world, creating a clear, structured and deliberate path for growth is a key ingredient to having not only a thriving workforce, but an inherent succession plan. All too often Partners unilaterally manage their clients until retirement, leaving behind a scramble to train a replacement, or for smaller firms, finding a larger firm to acquire the pieces. But what if there was a seamless handoff between positions? A thoughtful process for passing the torch to the next level of management and an entire pool of industry leaders ready to lead.
Nurturing the future leaders of your firm requires commitment and hands-on effort. It needs to happen at every level and should leverage the help of multiple departments. Here are some ways your firm can build a culture for nurturing growth, sustainability and success.
Learning and Development
Whether or not your firm has a department dedicated to Learning and Development, it’s important to give your employees a clear career path and plan for development. They should have concise expectations for their role, know exactly what is needed to move to the next level, and have access to resources along the way. Things like continued learning opportunities, material for CPA exams, and access to mentors will provide support and encouragement as they grow.
Encouraging staff to pursue a specialty or niche will help cultivate a highly skilled and passion-driven workforce. While younger associates may not have a specialty from the get-go, allowing them to explore fields and work on engagements that interest them will keep them engaged and wanting to learn. Creating personalized career paths according to those passions and strengths will not only maximize the quality of work, but also prove invaluable for retaining your staff.
As marketers, we understand the importance of a strong firm brand. But what about our staff’s brand? More often than not, a firm’s brand is representative of its leadership. For this reason, it’s critical for managers, senior managers, and partners to develop a personal brand both within the firm and in the industry. This is where Learning and Development and Marketing start to cross paths.
Once a manager, or even advanced senior associates, have established their specialty and solidified their expertise, they are ready to be branded as an industry leader. This is your opportunity to make them shine. This is the time to get them speaking engagements, find them article placements in industry publications, and guide them toward networking events and sponsorships in the space. Help them create a targeted LinkedIn page to reflect this knowledge. Teach them the value of prospect research and building referral relationships. The goal is to brand them as a leader in the industry and make their name top of mind within that industry.
Partners have an irreplaceable role when it comes to nurturing future leaders. Learning and Development and Marketing can help develop and brand every employee, but it’s ultimately up to the partners to give them the fruitful experience. While not every partner makes the best mentor or nurturing teacher, every partner has the ability to start training the next generation of leaders immediately.
Accountants and their clients have a very strong bond, and a sudden change in leadership could rock the ship. Having your partners include younger staff on engagements early and consistently will solidify client bonds with the team, rather than a single partner. This helps establish familiarity and a foundation of trust between your next level of management and the client. As they progress to manager, they will already have a relationship with the client and are therefore already prepared to take over when the partner needs to start handing off engagements. Additionally, when the whole engagement team is included in client meetings and events, the younger staff gets exposed to behavior and skills imperative for success and leadership. They learn confidence, they feel valuable, and they get to see how partners build and sustain client relationships.
Partners also tend to be big players in the community, whether it be Boards of non-profits, local politics or all around socialite. It’s important for developing staff to grow that same reputation and presence in the community. Partners can take advantage of opportunities to bring rising stars with them to fundraisers or events and introduce them to other influencers in the community. These situations give partners the perfect setting to recommend them for Board positions and to start encouraging them to show leadership and build a network outside the firm. This kind of nurturing will help develop leaders you want to represent the firm in the future.
As the word implies, “nurturing” requires time and effort. It means igniting passions and instilling the values that you want to see carry your firm into the future. With diligence and care, it’s a reward well worth the effort.