Crossing the great divide
The ground inside many CPA firms is beginning to shake as the first wave of over 76 million Baby Boomers (those
born from 1946 to 1964) reaches retirement.
The result of this quake is an expansion in
the generational divide within firms — especially between Baby Boomers and their
up-and-coming Generation X (those born
from 1965 to 1981) partners, principals and
What troubles me is that most firms aren’t
openly discussing this or encouraging an
honest dialogue about the needs of both
groups. Instead, we are seeing increasing tension that results in “interesting” maneuvering
and an erosion of trust and firm unity.
It makes sense that succession planning
places such generational pressure on an organization. After all, succession is all about the
“old guard” moving on (sometimes to retirement, sometimes to another role or position)
while the “young pups” step up and take on
new levels of leadership and responsibility.
This transition creates uncertainty and doubt
for both parties — about whether the mature
leaders will ever cede power, whether the new
guard is up for the impending challenges, and
what may lie ahead for both groups.
In addition to this unspoken uncertainty,
the division between the mature and up-and-coming leader groups is fed by the unexpressed and unresolved selfish interests of
both parties. These selfish interests are very
real and, when left unresolved and unspoken, cause both groups to manipulate and
triangulate to try to get what they want.
So, what are the selfish interests of each
group? In general, our selfish interests at
work revolve around how much money, time,
power, respect, happiness and fulfillment we
have. While the specifics and priority will vary
by person, the typical succession concerns of
issues can’t be
left to fester
BY JENNIFER WILSON
the “generation in power” include:
Not having enough money in retire-
ment, which can take the form of fears that:
they will retire too soon and should instead
continue working to ensure that they keep
earning and receiving benefits for as long as
possible; they will not receive the value they
expect or need for their interests in the firm;
and the younger generation won’t have the
skills to sustain or grow the firm in a way that
ensures that retirement payouts will be made
in full (especially at those firms with many
owners retiring in a tight cluster).
Losing their power to drive firm decisions, which, in turn, could erode their compensation or cause changes in their role or
authority that they won’t be happy with.
Not being rewarded for their contributions or the sacrifices they have made in the
past to get the firm where it is today.
that someone else thought were a good idea,
service lines that they may not have chosen,
partners among their ranks that they may not
have admitted, and more.
Having an unrealistic retirement payout
or buyout model that cannot be sustained
into the future, either based upon valuations
that are too high or payout clusters that place
too high a cash flow burden on the firm.
Losing access to the critical community
connections, technical depth and experience
of the mature leaders.
Not having the depth of talent underneath
them to provide the right leverage model as
experienced leaders begin to retire.
Putting in a lot of time and effort to produce financial results now, only to “line the
pockets” of other firm partners and not receive the short-term gain that they feel they
Most firms aren’t openly
or encouraging an open
dialogue among staff.
THE FUTURE OF
The emergence of the Internet as an
information source and marketplace has
changed the way prospective buyers
approach the buying process. Previously,
executives would tap their existing network to obtain a referral from a colleague
or associate. Now they can turn to the
Internet to conduct due diligence and
find a provider that may fall outside of
their business network. The new reality
is that warm prospects are searching the
Internet for professional service providers. Accounting marketers need to know
how to address this growing market.
One method of attracting prospects to
your Web site is search engine optimization. SEO is the process of improving
the visibility of a Web site or Web page
through organic or unpaid search results.
While this is a newer tactic, the need for
implementation and potential for new
business is understood by many in the
accounting marketing field already.
“As more people go to the Internet to
find providers, firms that don’t invest in
SEO may miss new business opportunities,” said Karlye Rowles, marketing manager for Schneider Downs, a CPA firm in
Pittsburgh and Columbus, Ohio.
The results of targeted SEO support
this assertion. “In November alone, we
got 10 leads directly from our Web site,”
said Katie Tolin, director of marketing for
Rea & Associates, a regional CPA firm
in Ohio. “They range from an individual
looking for help with back taxes to a con-
sulting engagement to a local manufac-
turer who needs a business valuation.”
It is essential that accounting market-
ers understand how to optimize Web
sites with search engines. The optimiza-
tion process needs to become part of
the broader marketing strategy. If you are
unfamiliar with SEO, then make an invest-
ment in optimizing your site. The key to
success with SEO is to make developing
and optimizing new content a priority in
daily marketing activities.
Jennifer Wilson is a partner and co-founder
of ConvergenceCoaching LLC (www.
convergencecoaching.com), a leadership
and marketing consulting and coaching firm
that specializes in helping leaders achieve
Losing access to long-standing friendships with clients, colleagues, referral sources or others in the community when they no
longer show up at meetings, events or in
Losing the sense of meaning or purpose
in life that they may garner from their career
and position with the firm.
Having to settle for new ways to spend
their time that are less interesting than their
current work. One partner I coach shared his
lack of clarity about how he’d spend his time
and be fulfilled by life after retirement, saying
he might have to take up “mall walking.”
Conversely, “up and comers” may fear:
Not being ready to take on complete
leadership responsibility, but not being given
the opportunity to learn now so they can be
ready in the future.
Not being allowed to actively participate
and shape firm decisions about the future, so
they are ultimately left saddled with offices
In our experience, there are solutions to
each of these concerns that often require ne-
gotiation and compromise to affect but can
leave a team healthier and more unified when
reached. Those solutions will not materialize
without both generations first engaging in a
dialogue that allows the selfish interests and
fears of each individual or group to be spoken
Brian Swanson is a principal with Flashpoint
Marketing, a marketing and lead-generation
company serving the accounting profession. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.