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Helen Clayton

Helen Clayton

Partner at PM+M

Helen Clayton on the ‘who’ and ‘how’ of succession

A couple of months ago, I discussed ’succession’ and the importance of planning.  This month, I am going to go a step further to look at the ‘who’ and the ‘how’ of succession: Who is going to allow you to retire and how is it going to happen?

To make succession effective, including minimal disruption on your firm, your teams and your clients, I cannot emphasise enough the importance of thinking ahead.  This isn’t reserved for those considering retirement; it’s also for those in the firm (or outside of the firm) who are considering, or champing at the bit, to be the future leaders.

Understanding who might be coming through the ranks and who might be attracted to joining, or indeed who you would like to join the business, is critical in ensuring it is they who are equipped with the appropriate skills to lead and manage in the future.  Time investment is important to ensure you really know these people.  What drives them? What are their ambitions? What do they need to be able to create a seamless succession plan?

Below are some of the areas that you will need to understand:

  • Age group and corresponding generic attributes
  • Ambitions and goals, including timeframes
  • Strengths and areas for development
  • Experience (and ability) in managing and leading
  • Do they take people with them?
  • Are they open to change and personal development?
  • Attitude to risk
  • Is your firm in the right place for these individuals to take it forward?

Mentoring and coaching will be a key element of developing people into future leaders.  In an era of increasing competition, regulatory change and ongoing challenges and opportunities, future leaders will need to be business owners, role models, great with people, business developers, not to mention great lawyers. It may be that one individual does not need to be first class in all these areas; it may be that as a partner group these skills are spread across everyone and therefore as a team, it’s as powerful as it can be. In fact, it’s probably preferable that these skills are spread throughout a team, with overlap. After all, we’re not meant to be clones, are we?  We’re individuals with our own strengths.

There is a key word in all of this however that I have not yet mentioned: Experience.  Without experience, how is anyone expected to become the future leader of a business?  As my mum has always said; you only learn by your own mistakes.  Any mistakes made cannot be catastrophic and with the right role models, mentoring and guidance in place, none should be.  Therefore, what is there to lose?

If you’re in the position where you’re considering succession in your firm, make it about the people.  If you don’t already really know them as individuals, make that time investment.  It’s your business, your success that you’re handing over, so why not make it the best it can be to the best people?

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