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Are You on the Path to Leader-Driven, Sustainable Growth?

Reprinted with permission from International Accounting Bulletin.

One of the hottest firm topics these days is succession planning.  In a nutshell the issue is this:  As your key leaders retire, who’s in line to take their place?

Firms are keenly aware they need to identify the next generation of leaders and ensure that they will be able to maintain their market share, reputation, and client base.

Succession planning impacts not only the future leadership of the firm, but also the ability of future leaders to achieve sustainable growth.

But sustainable growth involves more than handing rainmakers an umbrella and ushering them out the door.  It’s creating an empowered leadership team that can drive growth from every corner of the firm, creating a profitable legacy in the process.

Which sport do you play?

Traditionally, firm growth has been an individual contributor sport – think golf, not football.  Partners prize the deep, personal relationships they forge with their clients, often evolving into trusted business advisors.

It’s a fine way to grow an individual book of business, but it doesn’t necessarily translate to long-term firm growth.  In today’s highly competitive marketplace it’s risky for one partner to know what nobody else knows and to sell what nobody else can sell.

Many partners are by nature “lone rangers.”  That’s especially true for older partners who have always done their own thing in the market.  When that partner retires, your firm has not only lost a colleague, but often lost a portion of their book of business and the likelihood for sustainable growth in that market.

I’ve seen it many times.  A partner becomes a rock star, especially in a narrow area like litigation support or international manufacturing.  But what happens when that rainmaker folds up his or her umbrella and calls it a day?  And what about the retirement of segment leaders of audit, tax and various industry niches?

Someone needs to be concerned about the next generation’s ability to scale the practice beyond one or a few individuals.  The larger the firm, the bigger the issue becomes.

From ‘me’ to ‘we’

The key to sustainable growth is converting a firm’s world view from that of individual contributor to one of leader-driven growth.  The business of professional selling has much to teach CPAs in this area.

When a large corporation names a new VP of sales, she is not expected to be a rogue player out there selling her own wares.  As sales leader, her job is to use all available tools and strategies to get the most out of her team.

CPAs, however, often lack the requisite knowledge and skills.  They haven’t mastered an understanding of what it means to lead others to achieve team-based growth.

Forget the random banker breakfasts and lawyer lunches.  Instead, sit down with the fish in the pond you want to enter and ask focused questions to learn all that you can about that ecosystem.  Done often and well, these interviews (I call them Research Calls℠) will reveal a treasure trove of data.

Use that data to design a Research Call℠ pipeline process that drives activity and ensures accountability.  By its collaborative nature a pipeline keeps everyone – even the lone rangers – working off the same page.

You bet you can!

“So Gale,” you may be wondering, “This sounds great, but can growth leaders really be created?  Or are some people just born with these skills?”

While it is true that some individuals are natural chiefs, leader-driven growth is absolutely teachable.  You didn’t learn how to audit in a day – it takes years to perfect the skills and judgment required for success.

That’s why you need to identify individuals willing to step up to the plate and become growth leaders.  If required, seek outside help.  Send them to the right programs and have them practice their leadership skills on industry and service line teams.

For today … and tomorrow

By creating a process – and a passion – for leader-driven growth, you not only help grow the firm for today.  You grow your chances of remaining viable and sustainable for the future.