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John Moss and I were asked a cracking question in one of our regular “How To Become A Member Of The Club” webinars.

“I’m taking the older partner out to breakfast to get him in my corner.  Any tips for getting a road-map for his succession, and how I’m going to be part of it?”

Here are the four points we gave in reply: 

Remember it’s a very sensitive topic

Heather: Older partners exiting and their succession in a firm, particularly if they’ve been instrumental in building it up, is a very, very sensitive subject; often one they are in denial over. Many simply don’t want to have that conversation. The reluctance may not be any indication of how you’re viewed, it might be about where they are in their world.  So my first tip is tread incredibly carefully around the subject.

Plan the conversation carefully

John: First of all, well done for thinking through about having that conversation. It’s not one you can launch into, but needs to be planned very carefully.  Think about the environment you’re going to do that in. Going out to breakfast, out to lunch, doing it away from the office, is ideal. In the work environment is not the right place for this conversation.

Ask about the future, and the topic should arise automatically

Heather: Get him or her talking. Ask how they see the next five, maybe ten, years of the firm panning out. What does that look like in their view?  Let them talk through that and then ask what they see their role being in helping the firm.  That should get the conversation on to when they are thinking about retirement.  You can’t ask them “When are you going to retire?” outright of course, but you an guide their thinking to a future when they are not so involved with the firm.

John: It certainly should not be the first question, I totally agree with you about the sensitivity of handling it, Heather.  Having a conversation about how the senior partner, sees the firm developing is important. Keep a firm focus, talk about ‘opportunities for the firm’, rather than making it all about you.  Ask them about the potential challenges, the potential barriers, so that you can start to tease out and paint a picture?

Show that your first concern is for the firm

John: A key communication skill is to reflect and repeat back what the other person is saying. So keep summarising what the partner tells you, and try to avoid adding “I could do that!”  Ask lots of big broad, fat questions that are very much about the firm’s future, very much about the implications of that future, what’s going to be easy, what’s going to be difficult.  Show that you are thinking like a partner, and that your concerns are for the firm before your career.

In summary

  • Be sensitive
  • Be prepared
  • Let them lead
  • Show you care about the firm

 

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