Three steps for transferring ownership
So the best practices for transitioning ownership from one generation to another are first and foremost communication. There is a lot of guessing going on out there in our profession, who is going when. “I think Bob is going next year. I think Susan is two years out.” And that guessing game isn’t helping us formalize transition or identify successors. And so we have got to get honest and open about retirement dates and expected transition and then who is going in what order so that we can prioritize those transition plans. That’s number one.
Number two is to identify the right successors for the role, and a lot of folks think, I have got to find one successor to take my entire client base, which is a misnomer. Most of the time we don’t have one person in the firm that has open capacity to take the entire client base, but also frequently we don’t have one person who has the right skills, the right temperament, the right relationship skills to take on all those clients. And so we are going to usually transition to multiple people, and we have to identify what am I transitioning to whom and in what order. And you can’t transition all at once. And so you have got to have some sort of a progressive transition plan that you identify.
And then the third is to have a methodology that you use for transition. I strongly recommend something called gradual release model, which is something used in knowledge transfer and learning. And step one is where I take you out to meet the client, but you just kind of watch and I do all the work and all the relationship management, and I am the answer person. Step two is the next time we go, I ask you to do the planning. Maybe you plan the agenda. You show up, and you do a meaningful part of the work, whatever that might be. So we work together collaboratively to serve that client.
Step three is you do the thinking and the planning, and you do most of the work, and I help; I play a bit part. And then step four is you do all the work and I watch. And frequently, especially high-control personalities, they don’t want to watch, or they are unable to watch quietly, so you do all the work and I don’t show up at all.
And we do recommend that we pay attention to a model like that, and that we tell our young people about it, our successor, so that they can say, “Where are we in this transition?” And make sure that we are paying attention to the steps and really causing transition to happen.
Another thought on that is that we have to be careful the transitioner doesn’t disintermediate, get back involved. And it’s very common in the business of transition for me to feel a lack of control or maybe even a lack of meaningful part in the day-to-day. I just feel like I don’t have a meaningful role anymore. So all of a sudden, I get back involved with that client just so I can give my life meaning or feel good about my particiPation in the firm. And that disintermediates my successor, and it doesn’t empower them in the eyes of a client. Big mistake, and I hope we can really avoid that in transition.