Strategy, Legal & Operations

Next up: Succession planning at all levels

A look back at the HR industry in 2017

Often, when people talk about succession planning, we’re focused on the partner level. Which senior managers have what it takes to lead the firm when existing partners retire? But that laser focus on partner succession ignores the importance of preparing others to step up and advance in their role with the firm.

Everyone in the firm – at all levels – should think about how they’re preparing others to step up when they move on to the next phase of their career (or leave the firm). Do you have a development plan to help people move up? Without one, you’ll always be looking to hire outside the firm because you think your existing talent isn’t good enough. And the talent you do have will leave the firm for one that invests in their future.

Why plan for succession at all levels?

The only way to reduce the time and money lost on attrition or underperforming employees is with a multi-level succession plan. When a person moves up in the firm, it leaves a void in their old position. If you have a succession plan, the impact will be minimal and you’ll have a smoother transition because you’ve identified and fostered the next level. Each individual is ready to take on the next phase of their career, no matter their current position.

The key to creating such a system is to encourage people to develop others on their teams. Create incentives for partners to develop managers, managers to develop supervisors, supervisors to develop seniors, seniors to develop staff, and staff to develop interns. This applies to every department, including marketing and business development, admin, IT, etc. In the most successful firms, succession planning becomes part of the culture.

How to create a succession plan at all levels

Creating a succession plan at all levels involves three key steps.

  1. Identify core skills for each role

For every position in the firm, create a detailed assessment of the skills, knowledge, experience, and mindset necessary to succeed in that role.

This goes beyond mere job descriptions because these assessments don’t talk about what the employee does. It’s about the skills and attributes needed for the job.

These assessments help employees understand exactly what’s expected of them in their current role and the skills and experience they need to develop in order to be ready for their next career move.

  1. Conduct skills assessments

Now that you know what skills are needed at all levels of the firm, what’s missing? Assess each member of your team to help everyone understand what they need to be more successful in their role now and what they need to be ready for the next level.

As part of the assessment, talk to your people about their career goals to ensure you’re preparing them for the job they want. Not everyone wants to be a partner, but they do want to develop their skills and increase their value. Create tracks that can help people grow professionally and benefit the firm long-term.

  1. Create a succession culture

Training and learning are some of the most crucial aspects of preparing people to succeed with your firm. There are many ways to ensure that your firm has the bench strength to ensure smooth transitions.

  • On-the-job training
  • Formalized training sessions
  • Conferences and workshops
  • Mentoring and reverse mentoring programs
  • Peer networks
  • Goal setting
  • Online courses
  • Reading professional development books
  • Listening to podcasts
  • Collaborative reviews
  • Stretch assignments

Remember, accountants and client-facing professionals aren’t the only ones who can benefit from continuing education. You need skilled people at all levels of the firm to become more efficient and productive. A succession culture is one in which everyone teaches, everyone learns, and everyone increases their unique abilities.

When people at all levels of the firm are expected to take on succession planning, they need to be held accountable for that planning. Incorporate it into each individual’s 90-day game plans and performance reviews. People who can’t or won’t train their successors can’t move up in the firm.

Every employee in your multi-level succession plan won’t stay with the firm, even when you do everything you can to retain them. But the more people you put on a path that allows them to make valuable contributions to the firm, the stronger your bench will be from the bottom to the top of the organization.