The internal succession readiness assessment is an involved process and will focus on the following key questions:
- Can your firm obtain the necessary talent?
- Can your firm develop the talent into internal successors?
- Do you have the proper financial arrangement to attract and keep the talent?
- Can you develop an effective transition plan?
Does the firm possess an objective or subjective track to becoming a partner? It is our experience that many firms use an almost completely subjective set of measurements or requirements to make partner and this can often become a “moving target” in the mind of the person or persons wanting to make partner. The result is frustration and eventual disillusionment, which means all have lost time and energy…and opportunity. We agree and understand that a subjective set of metrics or guidelines is necessary, especially as the firm tries to replace the roles and responsibilities of specific partners but objective performance metrics must be the dominant measurement for those seeking to make partner within the firm.
Do the current practices and procedures of the firm demonstrate its level of commitment to internal succession? This is a question that always receives mixed responses. Most current partners would say, “Of course it does.” As an independent and experienced consulting firm often called upon to assist a firm write its partner or operating agreement, our review often reveals a different perspective. Carefully review not just the current agreement but the activities and “cut in stone” programs that are in-house and available to mentor and educate the members of your team that seek to make partner.
To this last question there is a follow-up question that must be addressed and that question is, “Does the firm provide both generic competency development and firm culture specific development?”
Generic competency development would be classroom training, webinar, workshop, conference opportunities, books, videos or other training and education methods designed to assist the professional staff achieve the highest level of technical competence. Many firms do this but they stop right there. They do not initiate or do not have a strong internal program to create or enhance specific firm-culture development which would include strengthening leadership or management skill sets, specific and established timelines for increasing roles and responsibilities. Many firms have moved to a two or three-tier partner development program which would include making “income partner” as the first step, non-equity partner as a second step and finally equity partner as the final step. Each step entitles the person to an increased role/responsibility and benefit within the firm. The structure can be beneficial for several reasons:
- The person is prepared for and assumes the role of a partner before they actually become an equity partner
- They have a vested interest in the firm’s profit and growth because they participate, in a small way but increasing manner, for each level achieved
- It enables a firm to present a specific sense of future opportunity and professional achievement more quickly than the old “either you are a partner or you are not a partner”.
A suggestion we would make is to perform your own analysis of your firm’s assessment and mentoring programs, as if you were not a partner but wanted to make partner. What would your opinion be of the firm’s readiness assessment and internal commitment to an active program to mentor members of the team?
For more information please read these articles:
- How to Manage Internal Succession by Joel Sinkin and Terrence Putney, Journal of Accountancy, c2014
- Succession Planning: The Available Strategies and How They Work by Joel Sinkin and Terrence Putney, CPA Practice Management Forum, c2009
- Planning and Paying for Partner Retirements by Joel Sinkin and Terrence Putney, Journal of Accountancy/AICPA, c2012