Building a NextGen firm

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Firms are looking more and more into future-proofing their businesses for the next generation of professionals, and according to Jennifer Wilson, co-founder and partner at ConvergenceCoaching, it's as much about working with NextGen clients as it is about working with one's NextGen firm talent.

But more than anything, Wilson said, promoting NextGen change is about one's attitude.

"You're not supposed to change it all at once, but you do have to make changes every year," said Wilson during the American Institute of CPAs’ annual Engage event in Las Vegas on Tuesday. "I hope you'll identify just one thing to change [at your firm] when you leave Engage. It shouldn't be 25 things."

Looking ahead at millennial figures in the workplace, Wilson said that by 2020, one in three adults will be millennials. By 2022, Gen Z will make up one-fifth of the workplace, and by 2025, millennials will make up three-quarters of all working-age people in the U.S. "Change is not optional," warned Wilson.

"A lot of us are chasing change, not ahead of it," she said. The remedy is to start building a "Get Better Culture," one where leaders, partners and managers can all make little changes to make a stronger, future-forward firm culture. "The biggest part," Wilson added, "is being open to feedback."

"One thing about change is communicating it effectively," she said. "Who communicates change best [at the firm]? Find the best communicators and get them in charge of change. Plan a communication strategy so that you consider all stakeholders and appropriate timing. Hold other leaders accountable for making the changes you agree upon."

The "Big 3" factors in NextGen firms, according to Wilson, are client experience, technology and talent.

On client experience, Wilson said that NextGen clients "expect tech to handle a lot of things that you have traditionally done [yourselves]. They want price upfront," and transparency in communication. "If your website isn't responsive, if you're not active on social media, they probably won't call you no matter who told them to call you."

Wilson also noted that NextGen clients "hate to work with someone who isn't digital if they're digital-native." This goes for millennials and Gen Z, who are even mobile-native in 2018. "You have to think about how you're going to have mobility," she said.

Wilson also pointed out the need to evaluate two different elements of a firm's offerings: an "advisory mindset," which includes knowing clients better and acting as a coach, versus consulting, which provides consultative services to clients. Advisory skills to promote in one's firm, according to Wilson, include relationship development; curiosity; listening skills; understanding relevant trends; skills to generate ideas; and access to experts. But overall, Wilson asked attendees, "What is your firm doing to build an advisory mindset in your people?"

On technology, Wilson feels change needs to come from within, and she worries that those in charge of firm technology don't push hard enough.

"I worry about the people running tech in our firms," she said. "We need to hear about change from your IT person/people, and I feel a lot of us are not. The other thing is that I worry the service line leaders are not pushing change either."

Lastly, focusing on talent, Wilson advised attendees to listen to NextGen talent and work with them on best practices, including flexible work options.

"I think [remote] NextGen talent wants flexibility of choice, not rules," she said. They "want things that make sense" and "not being told the traditional way makes sense if it doesn't." Managing remote workers still requires hands-on leadership and regular check-in's, she said, and requires firm leaders to still "actually manage" their people.

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