In my experience over the last 15 years of working with international membership organisations and professional services firms around the world, one of the most frequently recurring catalysts for discussion has been succession management. Firms that got it right developed and prospered. Those that didn’t struggled and often ended up having to merge and ultimately disappear into oblivion.
Succession planning is not inherently difficult or intellectually complex. It does, however, strike many raw nerves, both with those who are currently at the top of their firms or networks and are contemplating retirement (or not), and also with those in the early stages of their careers who are anxious to know what the future holds for them in their current firm.
The frustration, of course, is that many stakeholders in the succession planning process (of which there are far more than one might originally envisage) rush into decisions because of the apparent lack of a succession plan, thereby simply exacerbating the problem for all the other stakeholders. It is therefore critical that all networks and firms, and all their stakeholders, address the succession planning question before it becomes an issue. Closing the stable door after the horse has bolted is simply not an option.
Initiating the succession planning process need not necessarily come from the current leaders. Indeed, their failure to do so is often at the root of the problem. The bright leaders of tomorrow have much at stake and although a great deal of tact and sensitivity will be needed, it is often these future leaders of a network or firm who are best positioned to bring about change.
'Life after Boris' is a quick-to-read fable that should encourage any partner – or indeed anyone aspiring to partnership – in a professional services firm, to make sure that the succession planning issue is addressed in their firm. It seeks to demonstrate that with good planning, collaboration and proactive discussion, options can be found that will be acceptable to all. Without such an approach, the consequences could be serious.