What Gives the Next Generation an E.D.G.E.?
By David C. Knoch, President and Chief Operating Officer, 1st Global
I had the recent privilege of spending a few days with our next generation of CPA leaders at the AICPA E.D.G.E.  conference in Austin, Texas earlier this month. This year’s theme of “Sharpening the Next Generation of CPA” really resonated with the audience. Four observations struck me during the general and breakout sessions in which I participated:
- The consciousness of these next generation leaders is very high
- They care deeply about the health and meaning of the CPA profession
- Youth is their asset
- Their passion to unleash their talents is being restrained by other members of their firms
These next generation leaders were at the conference not just to expand their technical skills, but to improve their leadership and influence.
Universally, these leaders have truly recognized the solemn responsibility of their leadership role. They seek ways to find the time to engage in more leadership activities, obtain new skills to engage partners and staff so that their good ideas for the future could come to life, and manage their emotions and presence in a way to command respect from those who cannot see past their age.
No matter the motivation, the consciousness of these leaders is high. Beyond being gifted in motivating and influencing others, this group is aware of these gifts and is focused on refining them.
One attendee exemplified the importance of this. Her organization would not allow her to attend so she took vacation time instead and paid her own way. This was invigorating!
Ownership of the Profession
These young leaders clearly understand that part of their personal and professional responsibility is to give back. A significant portion of the event was dedicated to exploring volunteerism, the encouragement of high school students to understand and explore the profession, the ability to give back through college-level teaching as a full-time or adjunct role, and more.
While older generations generalize younger generations for their “everyone wins at soccer” and “work – life balance” mentality, the reality is that these generational stereotypes have a powerful social implication: the desire to contribute to something more meaningful than oneself. This view permeated many of the sessions, but shone through clearly in the creative ways the audience was looking at how to give back to the profession.
At the last session of the event, tables of attendees were given a topic and were asked to brainstorm around ideas on how to contribute and advance that topic. My group tackled the idea of how to increase young CPA contributions to their state societies, and we walked away with ownership of eight actionable ideas.
Youth as an Asset
Many members of the audience expressed the challenge of generational stereotypes, while at the same time trying to acknowledge how they might actually be generationally different and where this could be both a gift as well as a challenge.
Unanimously, the audience felt that they had a passion for expanding the traditional natures of their firms, but were challenged by an organization that often seemed more interested in protecting what had already been built or could not see how their firm might need to change with a changing world.
Nearly every audience member had ideas about how to expand the services of the firm, to increase client satisfaction, generate new revenues or keep up with competition and the changing business landscape.
However, they faced senior members of firms whose focus is on “how” to do work instead of “why” the work is important or “what” the ideal outcome for the client looks like. In my experience, younger generations often do search for the deeper meaning in work and want to know why the work is important to the firm and its clients.
The next generation has a deep respect for the profession and understands why the profession is so critical to the nation’s future, but the question of why their firm exists and how it is uniquely different is often an elusive message. Without the “why” of the practice, engagement of younger generations is more difficult and the retention of the best talent is at risk.
Perhaps most acute of all factors for this generation of leaders is the strong passion that this group has to unleash their talents. Throughout the conference I met young solo practitioners and managing partners who escaped their firms’ dysfunction and unwillingness to confront tomorrow’s realities by leaving to start their own firms.
While I hear firms talk about the fact that their young people aren’t the same, or that there are not enough good young CPAs out there, I rarely hear firms talk about how they are retaining the good people they undoubtedly have. At this conference, I found there is a lot of talent out there willing to be engaged.
Youth and the energy they create are positively correlated, a fact we’ve shown in primary research we’ve conducted with Accounting Today that shows age is correlated with desire to add non-core services to the firm. When the data is aggregated, the youngest partners have the strongest desire and the older partners have the weakest desire.
I left the conference with tremendous energy and passion for this profession and for our next generation of leadership. There are tremendous leaders who are conscious of their role, passionate about their profession, see their age as their source of energy and are eager to unleash their talents for the betterment of their firms.
The implication to today’s senior leaders is clear: to be the best version of itself in the future, the firm must start today by understanding, nurturing and involving their next generation. The firms that get this right will be the benefactors of growth, sustainability and meaning.
Don’t just take my word for it, search “#AICPA_EDGE” on Twitter and you’ll see the level of engagement that took place at the conference and is still going on today.
David C. Knoch is president and chief operating officer at 1st Global, a research and consulting partner for high-achieving CPA firms offering wealth management. 1st Global provides CPA, tax and estate planning firms the education, technology, business-building framework and client solutions that make these firms leaders in their professions through dedicated professional client relationships built around wealth management.
1st Global Capital Corp. is a member of FINRA and SIPC and is headquartered at 12750 Merit Drive, Suite 1200 in Dallas, Texas 75251; (214) 294-5000. Additional information about 1st Global is available via the Internet at www.1stGlobal.com .