Involve the younger generations in succession planning

By Phyllis Weiss Haserot
This is part of a series of regular columns by generational expert and internationally known consultant, coach, writer, and speaker Phyllis Weiss Haserot on intergenerational relations and navigating the challenges of the multi-generational workplace for better productivity, retention, succession planning, and business development results.

Most people think that succession planning is a top down activity involving management and seasoned professionals. I suggest it is better to involve the younger generations as well so that they can help create a vision for what the organization aspires to and what it is really looking for in long-term leadership.

If you think of succession planning as a continual process, one way to involve the younger generations in the firm is to hold at least periodic meetings with junior employees (professional staff), invite them to ask questions, and listen to their input. By tapping into the collective wisdom at all levels, partners, shareholders, executives, and managers will learn a lot about what can make their firms more successful and what are the most important attributes the firm needs to foster. After all, the younger ones have a longer future ahead of them and they see and experience the world in different ways. By engaging them in this important activity, the organization will be more likely to retain their best talent.

While they are at it, partners, managers, and supervisors should be looking for leadership attributes among the younger generations. Partners and managers need to allow junior people the chance to volunteer for or take on responsibility for significant internal projects. That's the way they will have the chance to prove themselves beyond their technical competencies.

Professionalism is a key concern in succession planning

Professionalism is an important concern in the partner succession and transitioning process in many respects. Most crucial, will the successors treat clients in the most professional manner regarding communication, prompt attention to their matters, privacy and confidentiality, ethics, and appropriate behavior?

Clients have more choices than ever in choosing and choosing to stay with outside advisers, and service quality and relationship building have become more important frequently than smarts and technical skill. Firms and client relationship managers need to seriously consider "fit" in a holistic way when selecting and training heirs apparent to step into the shoes of key client contacts, and in fact, the entire client team.


Generational Definitions
Here are some quick definitions. Generations are defined by the similar formative influences – social, cultural, political, economic – that existed as the individuals of particular birth cohorts were growing up. Given that premise, the age breakdowns for each of the four generations currently in the workplace are approximately:

Traditionalists born 1925-1942
Baby Boomers born 1943-1962
Generation X born 1963-1978
Generation Y/Millennials born 1979-1998 (under age 30 today)

Professional development of the next generation of client relationship managers is a major element of the transitioning process. Members of younger generations may not have learned the interpersonal and relationship building skills necessary at home, in school, or during the firm's typical training curriculum. Often they don't realize what is missing. They only know what they have been taught and usually are too busy to seek the coaching they need on their own. Firms need to make sure this training or coaching is provided.

To foster effective transitions, firms need to create an environment which is attractive to the younger as well as the older generations. It can be built around what people of all generations want: to be respected, recognized, and remembered. They also want to be coached, consulted on actions that will affect them, and connected to their organization and its mission. The mission of a professional firm is first and foremost to serve its clients.

For more on succession planning, see Practice Development Counsel's Next Generation, Next Destination.

© Phyllis Weiss Haserot, 2009. All rights reserved.
Phyllis Weiss Haserot is the president of Practice Development Counsel, a business development and organizational effectiveness consulting and coaching firm she founded over 20 years ago. A special focus is on the profitability of improving inter-generational relations and transitioning planning for baby boomer senior partners. Haserot is the author of "The Rainmaking Machine" and "The Marketer's Handbook of Tips & Checklists" (both Thomson/West 2008).

See all of the articles in this series. 

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