In a recent article, I shared nine requests that future leaders have of their existing leaders. After this article was published, I asked a number of established firm leaders across the country to share requests they'd like to make of next generation (NextGen) leaders. With change management, communication, and faith as central themes, here are nine requests established leaders have for their future leaders:
- Tell us how we can help you achieve your why. Identify the things that you love to do — that give you energy and satisfaction — and then share them with your leaders. Ask for specific things you want to do more and less of. Make requests for shadowing and experiential learning from firm leaders. As Randy Nail, CPA, chief executive officer at HoganTaylor LLP, shared: "I have such hope for you. Please excuse me when I don't say that often enough, or in the way that you best receive recognition and encouragement. I do not have all the answers and am on my own continuing journey of growth and discovery. I would love you to share in a deeper way your passion and the 'why' of your work. I want to help you realize the joy and fulfillment I believe you strive for...."
- Lead senior leaders through the changes needed. Help them prioritize the changes needed for the firm to be more attractive to both NextGen talent and clients. Provide upward mentoring on trends and technology. "Communicate your suggestions for change, and don't assume we aren't willing to change," said Stacie Kwaiser, CPA, chief operating officer at Michigan-based Rehmann. "For many of us, this profession has changed significantly during our tenure. Today's change is happening faster, which creates great opportunity for NextGen to help lead us through these changes."
- Help us make flex programs work. With remote and flexible work options rising, identify ways to make these arrangements win-win-win for talent, clients, and the firm. "We support flexible work arrangements (hours, location, etc.) and expect our people to also meet agreed-upon deadlines," said Frazier & Deeter Partner and COO Jeremy Sperring, CPA. "If you say you are going to have something to me by Friday, I don't care where/when you work on it, but please have it to me on Friday."
- Don't assume established leaders work 24/7 or expect immediate response. "We've been practicing flexibility for many years, so if you receive an email before or after normal business hours or on the weekends, it's not because we are working 24/7," said Kwaiser. "We stayed in this profession because of the flexibility to integrate our work and lives also! We don't expect a response immediately, and we respect your personal time and your need for manageable life and work integration."
- Trust us and say "yes" to challenges we put before you. "…[P]artners want to hear future leaders say yes when offered the opportunity to take on more work," said Colleen Murray, shareholder and director of operations with Perkins & Co. "The future leaders have to trust that this is the first step to learning how to leverage. And that partners can help them through that. They will get there, they are capable, and there are people to help them figure it out. There's an element of faith and enthusiasm for new things required to take those opportunities."
- Tell us when we are off-track or missing the mark. Give your firm's leaders constructive feedback for ways they can improve or changes they need to make. "We don't always know when we have overlooked something or are headed in the wrong direction," said Nancy J. Buckley, CPA, partner at Hertzbach & Company, P.A. "Feedback is both ways, and we welcome your insights."
- Realize that the grass isn't necessarily greener elsewhere. The changes you want to see, and the restlessness you feel, won't necessarily be resolved by leaving your firm. Demographic shifts, technology innovations, and changing service models are a part of almost every U.S. company's story today. Leaving one firm in the hopes of finding another that has it all figured out could be disappointing.
- Don't leave without first discussing your concerns. "If there comes a time that you believe it might be best to leave our firm or profession, please have a discussion with me as a trusted colleague," said Nail. "I promise to listen and give objective input." For six strategies future leaders can use to express dissatisfaction in your work, click here.
- Have faith in the long-term benefits of public accounting. "We know that you are in high demand and can find employment that may pay more in the short term," said Clint Tavenner, CPA, manager/CEO, of Idaho-based Cooper Norman. "But long term, public accounting will provide more exciting and challenging work and pay significantly more. You are smarter, faster, and better prepared than we were at your stage. We know that we have to accelerate opportunities and advance you much faster than we were. Partners have great faith, confidence, and trust in you."
Most NextGen talent I meet have requests for change to share with their leaders. But they lack confidence and are too deferential or too timid to make their requests. Established leaders both want and need more feedback from their NextGen talent. Their request for more dialogue is on the table. Seize this opportunity, future leaders! Sit down and share your ideas with your established leaders today.
Jennifer Wilson is a partner and co-founder of ConvergenceCoaching LLC, a leadership and management consulting and coaching firm that helps leaders achieve success. Learn more about the company and its services at www.convergencecoaching.com. To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact Jeff Drew, a JofA senior editor, at Jeff.Drew@aicpa-cima.com.