When facilitating visioning sessions with both current partners and their NextGen leaders, one element consistently emerges as crucial to their becoming a NextGen firm: transparency. Yes, it’s a request of the NextGen leaders, and it is often contrary to Baby Boomers’ and older Gen Xers’ approach of “Just put your head down, don’t ask any questions and everything will turn out.”
Unfortunately, Millennials (and younger Gen Xers) may be cynical because things have not always turned out as promised. So, their need for information and communication may feel a bit over the top; however, they have access to information at the touch of their fingertips 24x7 – literally – so they expect the same volume and velocity of communication from their firm leaders. And, they are often disappointed.
Remember, our Baby Boomers’ lack of transparency may partly be attributed to their Silent Generation leaders whose approach was “Speak when spoken to. No news is good news. You’re on a need to know basis, and mostly you don’t need to know.” Many Baby Boomers are afraid to communicate until they have all the answers, or better answers, or when their up-and-comers are “ready,” which can leave a void of information. And, in the absence of information, people make up their own and its almost always negative.Consider when you aren’t transparent and openly share information, it can feel like you have something to hide, you’re untrusting, and not very partnerly – yet you’re telling these up-and-comers that they are your future leaders and partners!
So, let’s explore four places you can bring more transparency and fill the information void for your NextGen leaders:
- Financial information – if you haven’t already, start sharing top-line revenue generation goals and engagement metrics. Teach firm economics early and often, sharing more information with team members as they progress and you’re preparing them for partner. The more they understand how to run a professional services firm and the impact and importance the various metrics have on your firm, the better able they are to influence those metrics and make (and understand) decisions that impact the financial health of the firm. That said, be sure that you’re consider growth-oriented and other metrics besides time like Jennifer suggests in this blog.
- Planning and decision making – if you haven’t noticed, your NextGen leaders question everything anyway, so involve them in your planning meetings and when creating a vision for your firm’s future (they’re the ones who are going to be on the hook to carry it out!). Provide the “why” when decisions are made and try to minimize saying “no” when ideas are brought forth, and instead share why the firm has done things the way you have in the past and the potential impacts that need to be considered to move forward with their ideas. Empowering your young people to drive change will engage them in thinking and acting like owners – and hopefully becoming one in your firm!
- Client relationships – don’t keep client relationships to yourself. Give your NextGen leaders access to your clients, which is a must for succession planning and for developing the experience you desperately need them to gain (and they desperately want). Practice the Gradual Release of Responsibility Model (GRRM) that Renee outlined in her blog where you set a NextGen leader up to watch the first meeting (and write the recap!), then lead part of the next meeting while you’re present for support, and then have them plan and lead the next meeting (or a large portion of it). The GRRM approach will help your NextGen leaders gain experience and exposure to clients, create a team approach to serving clients to minimize succession impacts in the future, and begin a paradigm shift in training staff, to a more experiential approach.
- Partnership and operating agreements – as your conversations progress with NextGen leaders and they are clearly on the path to partner, one step we often see occur too late in the process is sharing your partnership and/or operating agreements with them. Your NextGen leaders need time to read and digest the information, ask questions of you, their spouse and outside counsel, and learn how these agreements tie to the firm economics and the personal financial commitments they are being asked to make. Consider providing this information to them at least a year before you’re planning to promote them to partner and perhaps even two years out.
Trust is required for transparency to work and while trust is a two-way street, it starts with current leaders trusting first. Sometimes current leaders express concern that they’re going to invest all this time, share very confidential and personal information, and it feels risky because NextGen leaders could change their mind or cut out at any time. Our experience is that you have higher risk of NextGen leaders getting cold feet and exploring opportunities somewhere else if they are not crystal clear about their opportunities with you and your firm.
Where can you bring transparency to your NextGen leaders today? Share your approach, concerns and successes so others can learn!