Creating a better succession plan

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Succession planning isn't just for retirement anymore, according to ConvergenceCoaching co-founder Jennifer Lee Wilson.

"The whole discussion of transition isn't just retirement," Wilson told attendees at a sessionon building a better succession transition between different age groups at the AICPA's 2017 Engage conference, held in Las Vegas this week. "It's much broader than that. Great leaders of all ages ensure they have a successor for all their responsibilities."

Timing, a large part of the succession process, is best handled with advance preparation, Wilson advised. Each year, leaders should give an expected retirement time, she said, and when those leaders get within two years of that date, a transition plan should be developed and executed.

Additionally, Wilson urged that all team members should have a relationship with the retiring leader's clients, learning about those client needs and are continually available to them to answer their questions. That way, when it's time for a successor to step up, they'll be in a much better position to continue firm relationships than simply starting fresh.

However, Wilson noted that the retiring leader shouldn't have to develop their transition plans alone. Wilson advised that there should be a "facilitator" to the retiring candidate, but this person should absolutely not be the successor or potential next-in-line. This neutral party should be assigned to each transitioner to help them best prepare their to-do lists, plans, and more.

How the transition takes place is also vital, said Wilson. The ideal process would see successors only shadowing leaders at first, attending meetings and calls to learn, listen, and ask questions. As the successor starts to take on more responsibility and ownership, the retiring leader will in turn become the shadow, with more and more calls and questions being directed towards the successor, gradually leading them into their new role.

Wilson also noted that rarely should all responsibilities be taken over by just one successor, that planning for multiple people to take over a retiring leader's duties is actually necessary.

"A big mistake in transitioning is to isolate each transition," Wilson said. "You've got to look at the big picture to not overwhelm someone."

To help ease their workload onto new leaders, Wilson urged retiring leaders to develop transition grids for each of their successors, which would help them to decide which clients to transition to on their own.

Wilson left the audience with a message of proactivity, asking them to listen to the next generation today in order to successfully integrate their future leaders of tomorrow.

"Find out what your Next Gen wants and decide how to make it happen," she said. "Leave today's session thinking about one thing you'll do about this. Start something."

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Succession planning