The Second Step in Succession Planning-Take an Inventory of Your Succession Bench

In a previous blog, I discussed the need to assess the level of need you have for replacing partners that will retire in the near future. The next step is to determine what the potential for partner level talent you have on your bench.

I have consulted with dozens of firms about the quality of the high level staff in their firm relative to their potential to become the future leaders of the firm. Frequently, when we go through the candidates, there is very little more than a gut feeling any of the partners have about each candidate’s prospects and often differences in how each is rated. This obviously creates a huge obstacle to building a viable bench of potential successors.

A key tool to use for evaluating talent and building a development plan is a formal determination of the characteristics a person in your firm has to have to be a successful partner. Some of these criteria will be objective, many will be subjective. Generally we are talking about the ability to generate business, be a trusted advisor to clients, expertise, personal productivity, firm leadership, teamwork, community relations, and the ability to manage their duties profitably and effectively for the firm.

Once you have developed this benchmark, you have the ability to clearly evaluate each candidate in your firm and assess the gaps in their development. This will lead you to a much more effective plan to accelerate their development.

If you have an acute need to find new talent because you have near term partner retirements that require replacement partners, your talent acquisition needs to focus on instant answers. Use the partner characteristics tool to evaluate the potential each opportunity you identify has. If your need is not short term, use this tool to evaluate every new hire. Can you picture the person you are talking to becoming a partner eventually in your firm? Not only will you develop a stronger bench of successors, but you will have much better talent in the short run.

About the Author

 Terrence Putney, CPA ( is CEO of Transition Advisors, LLC,, which exclusively consults on succession and growth strategies for accounting practices nationally and ownership transition. He can be reached at or 866-279-8550.

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