Passing on leadership to the next generation at small to medium law firms can be a challenge. These firms give themselves the greatest chance of success for eventual transition if they identify future leadership early and take the time to nurture the best prospects before succession presents itself. Taking on this blocking and tackling is critical to passing the torch. Yet the generational diversity present in many of today’s law firms, especially smaller ones, can make succession planning a challenge.
The recent post How Law Firms Can Navigate the Generational Divide by Jonathan Fitzgarrald drills down into the “generational divide” law firms face when trying to implement leadership succession, transitioning relationships and client succession plans. He identifies four generations and details their characteristics that make succession at law firms such hard work. Working with the different generations and their needs and wants is critical in virtually all circumstances, but particularly when considering leadership succession planning.
Mr. Fitzgarrald’s labels and descriptions of the four generations are both understandable and familiar. Not only have we heard about “The Silent [Generation],” “Boomers,” “Gen X,” and “Millennials,” but we all know people that are just as Mr. Fitzgerrald describes. As today’s law firms confront leadership succession, many involve Boomers looking to its Gen X and Millennial lawyers to assume significant roles for the future health of the firm. When bringing together lawyers of these generations to design an effective leadership succession plan, there are five key objectives:
Getting a Boomer to Trust. Transition or succession, whether involving clients, relationships or leadership, requires trust. While all parties involved in transition need to trust each other, the hardest task can be convincing the Boomer-the one you want to let go a little-to trust the process and its participants. If he or she cannot be brought to the trust tree, transition will falter, fail or result in his or her departure without succession getting a chance to take place.
Getting a Gen X or Millennial to Invest. The flip side of the coin in transition is to convince the Gen Xer or Millennial to invest time and effort in the process. For the typical Gen Xer, if his or her participation promises tangible or intangible rewards that are valued, participation and investment is likely. The same generally will be true for the Millennial, but the rewards valued by members of that generation may be different than the ones that motivate the Gen X generation. And while getting the younger generations’ participation and investment is vital, equally important is making sure that the rewards that stimulate their investment are not so generous as to offend the Boomer. Finding the right blend is no small task.
Protecting the Firm and the Boomer. Transition is not effective if your efforts lead to your anointed Gen X or Millennial successors transitioning out the door and joining another firm, especially if they take your best people and clients. Since many Gen Xers and Millennials do not view loyalty to the law firm as a paramount consideration like earlier generations, protecting the Boomer and the firm from possible departure has to be an important component to the transition plan.
Eliminate the Individual Score Keeping. Transition has to be measured by the firm to see if it is working. But score keeping between the Boomer and the successor Gen X or Millennial participants will undermine individual commitment and the firm’s chance of success. When the Boomer or the nominated successors compare each other’s contribution to the overall effort, seeds of discontent can be sown, resentment rises and a fracture becomes more likely. Should that happen, your succession plan is on shaky ground.
Institutionalizing Succession. If your succession planning turns out well, don’t rest on your laurels. Start planning for the next phase. A firm’s goal should be to institutionalize the concept of succession. It will strengthen the firm and all the relationships that matter, including the ones with clients.
When dealing with law firm succession planning, understanding the wants and desires of all parties affected is essential. When developing your succession plan, have you adequately considered the “Generational Divide?”