Here in Nebraska, it’s easy to see the signs of summer transitioning into fall. It’s a wonderful time of year filled with many sunny crisp days and red, orange and yellow foliage. This time of year signals the transition toward the holidays and the time to usher in a new year is right around the corner.
These signs of transition surround us, pushing us forward to the next season, the next holiday, the next big life event. Most of us love transitions that bring fun or celebration but we don’t necessarily love transitions that require meticulous planning or drive us toward uncertain change – like the planning and uncertainty that can come from the personal transition from a full-time career to retirement.
By now, we all know about the impact that 78 million Baby Boomers retiring over the next decade will have in our firms and in our clients’ organizations, and yet succession planning is something that we see many firms “putting off” or avoiding. The most important shift that we believe has to occur around succession planning is shifting our mindset away from it being an “event” and toward seeing it as an ongoing, natural transition that we must incorporate into our daily practice management. This shift takes time and firms often encounter transition roadblocks. The most common feedback we receive as to why firms aren’t actively succession planning, include:
- We still have X amount of time before our next planned retirement date – it is never too early to start planning for transition. We should be introducing younger staff into our client relationships as early as possible so that eventual client transition is not a surprise and clients are accustomed to others delivering quality service for the firm.
- The partner who is transitioning is managing their transition themselves – we would advise against allowing the transitioning partner to manage their own transition. As they focus on their usual duties, the actual transitioning activities (and required planning) don’t happen. Someone should be assigned to work with the retiring partner to ensure there’s a transition plan and that it’s being carried out.
- We don’t know the exact retirement plans of our partners – this is common and something that should be discussed as soon as possible so that your firm can plan accordingly and so that your up-and-comers can learn when there may be a seat at the table for them. Many firms have a mandatory retirement age that is specified in their partner agreement but there is often little communication around planned timing and how many service cycles you’ll have until retirement.
- The partner who is transitioning has been avoiding transitioning or participating in the development of their transition plan – the subject of retirement can be challenging for the retiree to process and accept. Many of us take great pride in our work and it takes time and an internal conscious agreement to pass responsibility to others in the firm. We must have empathy for the complex feelings of loss and fear that come with impending retirement, but persistent in our commitment to discuss and execute a succession plan with retirees.
- We don’t have up-and-comers who we can transition clients to yet, or we do have up-and-comers, but they don’t have capacity to take on more client responsibility – you may have to boost your recruiting efforts to ensure that you’re recruiting and retaining high performers who will be the future leaders of your firm. Your high performers also have to be able to take on additional responsibility, which means that you will have to hire staff for them to transition their own work to as well.
It’s challenging to limit our responses to each of these transition concerns – we could write an entire book on the ins and outs of transition from the mechanical perspective as well as the emotional, more personal perspective! If you or your firm’s leaders are experiencing transition and succession challenges, you may benefit from some of our additional reading, tools and resources. We have a variety of blogs related to succession planning and future leader development. I’ll share a few with you here:
- For the retiring professional: There is No Success Without Succession
- For the retiring professional: If You Want to Leave a (Positive) Legacy: Get Started Now
- For the retiring professional: Let Go Gracefully
- For identifying your firm’s successors: Reluctant Leadership
- For developing your firm’s successors: Three Realms of Leadership
- For building bench strength: Relentless Recruiting
You may also find benefit from our Succession Toolset to support many of the mechanical processes that successful transition requires. The toolset contains templates, tools and articles that are segmented in two distinct areas: Managing Partner Transition and General Partner Transition.
Lastly, I want to make sure you’re aware of our upcoming web seminar, “Effectively Transitioning Clients,” on October 22nd at 11am ET. This interactive session will explore answers to the four most common client transition questions that retirees and other firm leaders ask. For more information about this webinar, click here.
How is your firm managing succession? What challenges are you having and what have you done to resolve them? What advice can you share for our fellow readers? Please share your thoughts in the comment box below!