Best Practices

Starting with the End in Mind: Best Practices for Business Succession Planning

Emily Taibl, Sweeney Conrad PS

In the fast-paced business world in which we all currently operate, it can be a challenge just to get through the daily “to-dos”. It is easy to let planning for the future fall to the bottom of the list.  However, the more you plan now, the smoother the transitions can be.  Below are some of the best practices for succession planning that will help to streamline the process.

Start Early: There is a reason this article is titled “starting with the end in mind.” While thinking about how a company or department will continue after an employee exits may seem unnatural, the earlier you have a plan for it the better. Building a strong foundation with clear direction and structure can help alleviate guess work and untangling down the line.

Never Stop Planning: Business is always in motion- unless you are selling or closing a business, there is no finish line.  Your succession plan should be a continuous plan that grows and changes, reflecting economic cycles, trends in the marketplace and the skills and strengths of your current leaders as well as those coming up behind them.  This best practice is extremely important in accounting firms, as there are years where we may retire a number of shareholders and other whole periods of time where none of our leadership is changing.

Analyze: Analysis is an important part of succession and it comes into play in a number of areas. First, it is important to analyze your current situation. Identify team members who are forward thinking, dedicated employees on the path to leadership. Second, analyze the future. Take a look at trends in your market, important skills that your company’s future leaders will need, and areas where your industry is growing. It can be helpful to conduct an annual SWOT analysis (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) so that you can make hires that will continue moving your business in the right direction, and build a foundation of strong up-and-coming leaders.

Define Roles Clearly: The more clearly and well-defined your roles and job descriptions are, the easier it will be to navigate transition. This can be more difficult in departments such as accounting marketing, since many of us are navigating these roles for the first time in our firms. Be sure to have open dialogue with your supervisors and partners and take time to create thorough job descriptions and titles. Revisit them often as your current responsibilities and those of your team continue to evolve.

Communicate: You have probably heard the saying “communication is key.” When it comes to succession planning, communication is everything. Transitions can be difficult. The thought of handing over the reins to a new generation and selecting a predecessor (especially when family and/or money is involved), can cause emotions to run very high.  Honest and consistent communication can keep assumptions and inferences to a minimum. Confronting issues head-on with training, evaluation and conversation may help to keep difficulties to a minimum. 

Focus on Development: Developing your current employees goes hand in hand with defining roles and maintaining good communication. What you put into your employees, will come back to you tenfold as they develop into innovative and strong leaders.

Rely on the Experts: There is no shame in getting outside help. Make sure your business has the appropriate team in place to make transitions seamless. Whether that is an attorney, accountant, human resources expert or consultant of another kind, when emotions run high, experts can give you outside perspective and stay neutral.

The moral of the story is, while succession is easy to push away- the more you plan for the future, the smoother the future will be.