The modern accounting landscape is being transformed by a number of key factors: continuously advancing technology, the subsequent evolution of the role of an accountant and changing workforce demographics.

In a rapidly changing industry, learning to adapt while planning for the future is vital. An important part of this planning involves adapting to the needs and wants of millennials, the largest generation now participating in the workforce. Whether you intend to groom a new leader or merge your firm, preparing for succession today will ensure the business you’ve worked so hard building will continue to thrive no matter what the future holds. Here are some key considerations when it comes to succession planning.

Culture

Defining a strong culture within your firm is important no matter your end game plan. Millennials have become accustomed to a startup culture in the workplace that promotes both openness and flexibility --- both things to consider if developing or retooling your firm’s culture. If you’re looking to bring on a successor, make sure that they understand this culture and align with the firm’s values by observing how they live them out on a daily basis when working with staff and clients. Ensure they’re willing to carry on these values once they take over and set them up to succeed by letting others in the firm know that they are a future leader.

If planning to merge with another firm, it’s important to realize that no two firms’ cultures are the same. I merged the accounting practice that I used to own with a larger firm and I didn’t consider how much their cultures would differ in regards to work from home expectations, time and billing and client relations. On that note, if you have close client relationships, ask the question, ‘how do I make sure existing clients are taken care of consistently so both the staff and clients feel comfortable?’. Plan ahead as to how you’re going to bridge the culture gap between the two firms. By picking the best of breed between the two firms, you can come up with a joint culture that will ease the transition for your staff.

Staff Transition

If you’ve chosen a successor to take over the practice, make sure they are on board well in advance and that being a leader is in line with their career goals. If so, start giving them responsibility so staff start seeing them as a leader before you’ve transitioned out. Provide transparency to that leader so they understand the firm’s inner workings. Ensure a similar sense of transparency with staff so they’re clear there is a plan in place. Show them what the future of the firm looks like so they’re part of the process rather than invoking an air of secrecy.

When merging two firms, create a taskforce comprised of staff from both firms that will address any transitional issues. Whether it be an internal taskforce or a service line taskforce --- everyone is going to have different methodology as to how they do the work so it’s helpful to have a united front working to ensure cohesion.

Technology

If you’re yet to move your firm to a cloud accounting engine, plan to do so before merging with another firm, selling or having a successor take over. Transform your practice so it is appealing for someone to want to take over. This is especially important as millennials will play a part in your firm’s succession no matter what your firm’s future may be, and they’ve come to expect cloud technology in their workplace as a given. The transition to cloud technology can seem daunting, but with careful planning and access to the right resources it becomes more than manageable. Create a plan that includes key milestones along the way so you can measure your success.

Assign specific roles to staff in order to make the move to cloud technology as smooth as possible. Appoint team members dedicated to the key roles of converting clients and taking care of the day-to-day. Reordering your priorities and setting expectations beforehand is important and know that, in the short-term, adding new clients will have to take a backseat so that the transition can be executed as smoothly as possible. Know that the move won’t happen overnight, but with time.

Being prepared is key when it comes to succession planning. By reiterating your firm’s culture, maintaining transparency and utilizing modern technology you can ensure your practice’s success long after succession.

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Amy Vetter

Amy Vetter

Amy Vetter is the chief relationship officer, partner channel, for Xero Americas.