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How to Set Your Successor Up For Success

Jan 26th 2017
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Even if you’ve carefully selected an up-and-comer to take over the reins in the future, this isn’t where your firm’s succession story ends – it’s only just begun.

It doesn’t matter if a handover is just around the corner or in the distant future, or whether they’re an internal or external pick, it’s important that you make the focus on their impending leadership a consistent priority. It’s likely you’ve chosen your successor because they have the attributes of a leader; however, they may have limited on-the-ground experience in this area.

For this reason, continuously developing their management skills is fundamental to them being able to confidently and satisfactorily lead. This focus goes hand-in-hand with reinforcing their position as a leader to the staff in your firm. Moreover, if they start to see the successor as their boss now, the transition – once it comes – will be more of a natural progression.

Here’s how you can equip your replacement with the tools they need to make the transition as easy as possible:

Focus on Developing Your Successor’s Leadership Skills

There’s a variety of hard and soft skills your next-in-line will need to develop to lead successfully. Being ambitious is important, but you should also guide them and provide opportunities for them to grow their leadership capability over time.

Beyond required continuous education, like CPE, your successor should also undertake management-related training. If there’s no precedent for this type of training within your firm, consider employing a coaching firm to work with your future partner in this area or find a training company where you can enroll them in a leadership training program.

For example, the firm that I went on to become a partner at was a member of AGN International, an association of independent accounting and advisory businesses. Not long after I made partner, I attended new partner training through AGN with other partners from all over.

Throughout the training, we participated in group exercises, learned about new expectations, and more. Deciding on the coaching or training route is dependent on what you think would work best for your firm and your successor’s personality and work style.

Sales training is a really useful and often neglected learning area for future practice leaders, as is business development. Start their learning in these areas as early as possible.

You can finesse their sales skills internally by, as an example, setting sales goals and ascertaining whether they can achieve them. You can also have one of your firm’s high-performing salespeople mentor your successor by inviting them along on sales calls or meetings to get more experience.

Ensure your successor is well-versed in the firm’s “elevator pitch” as this can often be a “light bulb moment” for those needing help with their sales prowess. Giving milestones like these to your successor will prove extremely helpful in their learning journey.

Reiterate Leadership Status with Your Staff

It’s one thing to tell the staff in your practice that one of their co-workers or an outside candidate will be their leader one day, but ensuring they’re on board is another. Here’s a few tips to remember:

  • Be open and transparent about their appointment, as opposed to being unintentionally secretive.
  • Show staff what the future of the firm looks like so they’re a part of the process.
  • Give your successor responsibilities that will cement them as a leader in your staff’s eyes long before you’ve transitioned out.
  • Have them run some internal meetings so they have exposure before they become a leader.
  • Have them represent you at an external meeting that you would usually attend.
  • Give them opportunities to take your place and represent your firm.

Also, if you’re transitioning your firm to cloud accounting software:

  • Charge your successor with managing this monumental transition.
  • Let them lead on the technology change.
  • Ask that they justify their decisions in regards to areas like recruiting and retention.

Have them present these justifications at partner meetings to help solidify their leadership status with their co-workers and ensure the technology implemented is beneficial for them and the firm’s future. If your firm is already on the cloud, ensure the successor knows how to leverage it to run the firm successfully.

By offering constant support to your successor, you’ll all but guarantee your practice’s future long after you’ve left.

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