Leadership / Management

The secret to succession planning: What should your firm do?

High_perfromance_firmEvery conversation I have had with managing partners and every firm retreat I have facilitated in the last year has featured succession planning as one of the top two issues. The other top concern is finding and keeping talent. Turns out the answer is the same for both: What is your vision? What do you want the future to be like?

Yup, that is the correct answer. How can you answer either of those questions if you do not have a clear picture of what your firm or company or even department will look like in the future? Can you answer what is most important? What types of skills and experience you will need? What types of clients are best for your firm?

All of these come from a clear vision of the future. That is also what struck me in Rick Telberg's recent post on how CPAs can master the essence of excellence. In his post, he refers to business guru / author John Spence's new book, Excellence by Design: Leadership. Rick points out the simple yet profound secrets in Dsc08190these bullet points:

  1. Vivid vision -- long-term, shared, communicated and understood (these are my descriptions).
  2. Best people -- people connected and engaged in the vision and in alignment.
  3. Performance-oriented culture. Strategy comes from vision and results should be tied to strategy. Set standards of work commensurate with your strategy. Empower people to make decisions.
  4. Robust communication. Most organizations fail to communicate strategy by a factor of 1,000! Use every opportunity to tell the "story" of your vision to team members, suppliers / vendors and customers.
  5. A sense of urgency. Don't underestimate this one. Urgency and perseverance are required to fight against the tide of day-to-day urgent activities.
  6. Client focus. As Harvard marketing guru Ted Levitt says, the job of every business is to get and keep a customer.

Our research into high-performing firms confirms this. Look at our model in the first picture. It looks like a series of bouncing balls. Vision, core purpose and core values are like raising the ball higher before bouncing it. (Model courtesy of David Sibbet at Grove Consultants International.) You get a higher reflexive bounce when you throw it -- more momentum and higher levels of performance. This is also one of the top reasons top talent will join and stay with your firm (firm mission and vision statement), according to the latest AICPA PCPS Top Talent Survey.

What is your vision? Do you have a firm vision, purpose and mission statement?