Robert Armstrong’s inspiring recent blog, “Unlimited Possibilities,” referenced the attitude of Apple’s Steve Jobs. Jobs sees death as “the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life.” Jobs has courage. He is also a smart planner.
When Jobs announced that he was stepping down as CEO, there was no ripple in the company’s stock price, as is usually the case when a high-profile executive leaves a company. In fact, the stock fared better that day than the overall market. Why? Jobs actually planned for this move. He had a succession plan all mapped out and he nurtured his people and his company’s culture accordingly.
Estate planning attorneys deal every day with the “what-ifs” of life. So what if you were to become disabled or die? Do you have a succession plan in place that ensures that your practice has the leadership and expertise it needs to carry on successfully? Is this the case for your top people and your partners?
Succession planning is probably more important to a company the size of a typical estate planning practice than it is to a multinational such as Apple. Of course, you don’t have the talent pool that an enterprise organization has, but even if you did, it’s important to have a formal procedure for identifying, nurturing and retaining individuals at every level who could step up to the plate.
As an estate planning attorney, you know how to put in place the legal framework for succession, such as a buy-sell agreement. But, you may have overlooked the practical aspects of succession.
Here are some guidelines for creating your practical succession plan:
- Establish clear business, growth, and cultural objectives for your practice and make sure that all partners are on board.
- Identify individuals who have the capacity and willingness to step into a new role, at every level.
- Clarify career expectations of your staff and strive to meet those expectations.
- Focus on the retention of your staff. Turnover and recruitment are costly.
- Identify successors for the key people in your firm.
You’re involved in planning every day. Practice what you preach by anticipating the “what ifs.” Your business does not have to be the size of Apple to have a great succession plan. Take the time to develop a formal succession plan. If you are successful in implementing a great succession plan, your business can carryon even in the event you can no longer work in the business.
Stephen C. Hartnett, J.D., LL.M.
Associate Director of Education
American Academy of Estate Planning Attorneys, Inc.
9444 Balboa Avenue, Suite 300
San Diego, California 92123
Phone: (800) 846-1555
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