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Succession development in the Professions – time to think differently


With the current economic climate still challenging, the need to plan for the future leadership of professional services firms remains critical. However the competencies required to lead firms now and in the future, often differs from the original competencies that brought Partners into partnership. Firms are thinking carefully about what they need from their future leaders and are ensuring they take time to plan their leadership development accordingly.

The leadership team of any professional services firm has a completely new set of challenges to face. One Partner recently reflected on the new economic, political and global trends that his firm faces. He spends an increasing amount of time focusing on the impact these new changes are having so that he can steer the firm to greater success in the future. Another Partner commented on how she is now leading in global markets, where creative thinking, the impact of new technologies and working with a global workforce are highly relevant but she has had little experience or training for this. She was keen to explore the new business models that can be used to navigate these challenges.

But what skills does a leader in this sector need now? GCA believe that there is a shift required from the operational, transactional leadership style which served firms well in the good times, towards one of transformational leadership where leaders can deal with complexity and change simultaneously.


Typical past competency models often included:New areas of competence include:

Client service

Spotting opportunities

Sales and marketing planning

Finding creative solutions to problems

Effective management

Seeing (or discerning) patterns in complexity

Risk management

Able to pursue long term strategic goals

Strategic thinker

Managing change

Relationships building

Comfort with ambiguity

Leading global teams

Working with cultural sensitivity


However identifying those with the potential to assume greater leadership responsibility isn’t enough. Firms need to provide critical developmental experiences before they can assume senior roles. A comprehensive succession and development planning strategy should:

· Identify a succession talent pool

· Assess individuals competence against future leadership requirements

· Identify clear developmental goals

· Provide support to achieve these goals through a mixture of tailored work experience, stretch assignments, projects, executive coaching, conferences, seminars/webinars and courses.

And finally – firms can fall into the trap of focusing on the planning part of succession planning. We see firms engaging in assessment, discussion and list forming, and whilst this is useful, it can also create a false sense of comfort as it fails to deliver a sufficiently prepared talent pool. Planning needs to be complemented with appropriate leadership development that embraces future leadership development needs.


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