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Do you have a spot saved for your Bernie?

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February 28, 2011

Changes in our firm have been rapid over the past year. We moved offices, added employees, and changed our name. That’s a lot for a small firm. Our clients have felt the changes as well, and they’ve been open with their responses.

Some feedback has been good, while other clients have responded with fear and confusion (mainly our long-timers). With so many changes, this of course is normal. To mitigate the confusion, we’ve worked to communicate clearly and frequently with clients—letting them know what’s coming and that it really is no big deal; it’s business as usual. Let’s face it though, no matter the level of communication that goes out, very few people actually like change.

I am in year two of a three-year succession plan for taking over my father’s firm. And although I’ve been a partner for almost five years, I think that most of my dad’s long-term clients have not really acknowledged that I will indeed one day take over completely. They believe he will be a fixture forever. I also don’t think they’ve “taken to” all my changes—specifically our transition to advanced technology and a paperless environment.

In fact, the times my dad has been out of town and I’ve handled his clients, I’m certain they thought he had died. I mean, why else would his daughter be efficiently responding to their requests using Web-based technologies? They couldn’t “see” him, so it must have meant he was no longer around. One client even stopped by unexpectedly to “drop something off.” Clearly a ruse to check on my father’s well-being.

After clients learn that my father is still alive, we take the opportunity to explain the technology and our new way of doing business. My father’s endorsement at this point is the biggest selling point. To sweeten the deal, we also assure the client that in the event of his death, we’ll prop him up and keep him for display (modeled after the cult classic, Weekend at Bernie’s)! After all is said and done—after the clients understand the changes—they quickly get on board, excited and confident once again.

The big lesson here? Change takes time. The bigger lesson? Making major changes while your predecessor is still onsite and can endorse the firm’s transition to the broad client base is priceless. Hmmm, now I’m wondering whether my Weekend at Bernie’s idea is something we can actually swing…just to make the client feel better of course.

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