Put Me In, Coach!
“Oh, put me in coach, I’m ready to play today
Put me in coach, I’m ready to play today
Look at me, I can be centerfield
~”Centerfield” by John Fogerty
This is the song we hear NextGen leaders singing across the country. Your NextGen are restless. They see opportunities for change and they want that change now.
The challenge for current leaders is harnessing this energy and the boundless possibilities your NextGen leaders are bringing to the table. As we discussed in Leadership Lessons, established leaders need to empower their future leaders and make room for them to make their impact on the firm, its clients and its people. Your NextGen leaders don’t want to be told to “put their head down and do their time” or “your time will come when this firm is yours.” Firms that figure out how to capitalize on the innovation of their Next Gen and truly drive change will create a pipeline of future leaders and realize increased top-line revenue and margin, as well as enhanced morale, team work and results.
In this Practice Perspectives article, we’ll explore several ways you can put your NextGen “in the game” and capitalize on their energy and ideas. Some of the suggestions include:
- Giving them meaning – The “why” matters more than “what” for your future leaders. Define your firm’s core purpose and the vision for where you’re headed – or better yet, have your future leaders help you define it since they will be the ones to fulfill on it. Create a cross-functional committee with representation from each of your disciplines (including admin), all levels, and each generation. Charge the group with developing your firm’s vision, with approval from your partner team, and create strategies and actions on an annual basis to work towards fulfilling your vision.
Define exactly how each team member’s role fits into that vision. It’s very easy for employees to feel deeply disconnected from clients, leaders and how they fit in the future of your firm. Defining your “why” or sense of purpose and then providing a sense of belonging will help to enroll your team members in being a part of your firm’s future.
- Investing in them – When you invest in your future leaders, you’re acknowledging their value and demonstrating your care and concern for their success —and not just the firm’s. Investing in your future leaders goes beyond the normal 40 hours of CPE or holiday party or April 15th happy hour. To truly invest in them:
- Develop their soft skills and leadership skills – via training and leadership development programs as well as coaching that could be from a combination of in-firm resources and external resources, too.
- Ensure that your firm’s technology is leading edge – including time-saving apps, video-conferencing, FAST internet and remote capabilities, scanning tools, and more. Your NextGen workforce expect access to quality, smart technology, as it is widely available and the costs keep coming down.
- Teach them how to manage a profitable professional services firm – by teaching them practice economics, sharing the firm’s financial picture (including your vision for the future and progress along the way – good and bad), and including them in planning meetings. Also, consider including senior managers or partner candidates as observers in your executive or management committee meetings or sometime participants in your partners’ meetings.
- Providing them with opportunities – Identify all the places where you can “give your NextGen the experiences and opportunities they need to feel challenged, gain the much-needed experience they desire (and you need them to have!) and progress in their careers.
Find opportunities to take them along so they can shadow client meetings and take on more responsibility. Bring them along to prospect and referral source meetings if you are active in this area or develop plans for you both to develop your marketing acumen as you get involved in networking groups together. Yes, this is likely to incur non-billable time but it’s an investment that will pay dividends for years to come. It is the best way for up-and-comers to gain the experience that traditionally took years to develop. Don’t attend another event alone and encourage your contacts to do the same.
- Empowering them – Give them opportunities to own something. Owning doesn’t mean they make all the decisions or have to do all the work; the owner is the facilitator of the thing that they own and are expected to do the planning and thinking for it, identify resources needed, communicating to other stakeholders, and being responsible for the success or failure of it. Some areas that you can develop ownership in your NextGen and begin to truly empower them, include:
- New aspects of an engagement on every engagement with the goal that they supervise all of it in short order. Identify one or two goals for each engagement that your NextGen leader should achieve to take on new responsibility faster and keep them motivated with increased responsibility and challenge.
- Interacting directly with clients with the goal of fully managing client relationships with your involvement only as needed. Your NextGen team members are used to working in teams and having access to all levels in school, volunteer organizations, church and more. They expect the same in your organization, including access to partners as well as clients. This is another opportunity to provide them the experiences, develop their soft skills and free current leaders to work at their highest and best use.
- Improving internal processes and efficiency with oversight and direction (not control) by your service line leaders. Taking ownership of process improvement will help them identify steps that could be consolidated, completed by someone other than a CPA or addressed through technology. Your NextGen leaders are committed to work smarter, not harder and assigning them to figure out how to do that will help you address the talent shortage and provide educational opportunities for your NextGen to learn why things are done the way they are (and understand the balance of risk management, client service, scope management and being efficient).
- Managing and developing people to provide leadership opportunities. In addition, you’ll increase retention in your firm when every person is assigned a coach or career advisor who is charged with knowing, motivating and developing them, and while not everyone is cut out to be a career advisor, many of your NextGen leaders would love the opportunity!
- Knowing them, spend time with them and show you care – Build rapport and relatedness with your NextGen leaders by regularly taking them to lunch or a conference where you can truly spend time with them. This kind of time gives you both the opportunity to learn about each other. Ask your NextGen what their motivators are at work, what they want to learn more about, what they like and don’t like about their job and what support they need to be achieve their career goals. Don’t forget to learn about their commitments outside of work, too, so you can fully support the whole person. Then, demonstrate your care by remembering what they told you and checking back in.
Share your journey, too, in the profession and at your firm, so they can see that there are many paths for progression and partnership. Tell them stories about mistakes you’ve made along the way, what you learned from them and how others supported your development. The power of this kind of vulnerability and genuine relatedness cannot be underestimated!
Your NextGen will rise to the bar you set and in most firms, the bar you’re setting could be much, much higher. It takes current leaders’ willingness to trust, empower and let go. And putting your NextGen – even if you’re not sure they’re ready – in the game.
For more information, listen to Tamera Loerzel’s podcast conversation with Dan Hood of Accounting Today where they talk about the NextGen being the bright future of our profession. Or, to explore how ConvergenceCoaching can help your current leaders develop their NextGen leaders, contact Tamera directly by email.