Jennifer Wilson
How well do you know your future partners?

Twelve questions you should ask your rising stars.

February 4, 2013
by Jennifer Wilson

A human resources storm is brewing in the accounting profession.
The CPA Consultants’ Alliance, in its white paper CPA Firm Leadership: Communication Drives New Possibilities, and the AICPA Private Companies Practice Section Succession Survey point to an impending staff shortage driven by the upcoming retirement of nearly 78 million Baby Boomers (those born from 1946 to 1964). A June 2012 Journal of Accountancy article underscored that changing of the guard, estimating that more than 100,000 Baby Boomer CPAs are likely to retire over the next couple of decades—creating a void that new leaders will have to fill.

The CPA Firm Leadership white paper suggests that “… firms that strengthen leadership and management at all levels … will find enterprising ways to truly engage their people.” I’ve written a lot on the subject of leadership development and the importance of engaging and retaining your top talent. In a recent article, “What’s Your Firm’s Path to Partner?” I encouraged firm leaders to develop answers to the 12 questions that rising stars most want answered. In this article, we’ll turn the tables and explore 12 questions for you to ask so that you can better know your future partners and also identify areas where you can further develop their skills, appeal to their interests, and engage them long term.

If this idea appeals to you, your first step is to identify your firm’s rising stars. If you’re not sure how to choose, refer to my spring newsletter article, “Engage Your Best and Brightest,” for a step-by-step approach to identifying them.

Once you’re clear on who your firm’s best and brightest are, match each person with a gifted motivator from your partner or senior leadership team to act as a rising star shepherd. Remember, not everyone possesses people development skills at the same level, and you want only your truly skilled people developers assigned to this task. In most firms, this will mean that one or two of your key leaders may act as the shepherd for your entire group of rising stars, and they’ll have to be empowered to make time to manage this important responsibility above other priorities.

Encourage your shepherds to schedule a meeting with each of your rising stars in the first trimester of this year. Yes, you heard me right—during busy season! Your best people are the ones usually left alone because they are self-sufficient and heads down, but they are the ones we should pay the most attention to, even during peak periods. Remember, just because you’re “too busy” to focus on them doesn’t mean that your competitors’ recruiters feel the same way.

When you meet, ask as many of the following 12 questions as possible. Try to make sure the conversation flows naturally so it doesn’t feel like an inquisition. Also, allow for give and take, so your rising stars can ask the questions they have for you. Be sure to read the aforementioned article on the 12 questions they most want answered so you’re prepared with the answers.

My suggested 12 questions for rising stars are:

  • What do you envision for your career in one year? How about in three years? What do you most want to achieve in your career?
  • What do you view as your strengths or gifts?
  • What do you most like to do in your position right now?
  • What would you most like to try doing based on what you’ve seen in the work you’ve observed?
  • What do you like least in your position right now? Why? What would you like to see changed in your role as a result of this?
  • What skills do you want to develop to further succeed in your role with the firm?
  • What other skills are you interested in acquiring that are not directly related to your current job?
  • What more can I (the shepherd), your manager, or the firm do to improve your job or assist you in being more successful?
  • What other areas of the firm are you interested in learning about?
  • What questions do you have about your career and its progression that we can answer for you?
  • What should I know about you personally? What do you want to know about me personally?
  • What else would you like to discuss?

When you have some or all of the answers to these questions, brainstorm with your leadership team about appropriate actions, changes, and investments you can make to address the things you learned about the wants, needs, and desires of your key people. Some of the follow-up actions will need to be tailored to each individual, while others will apply to several or all of your rising stars.

Once you have formed your 2013 rising star game plan, get into action implementing your ideas. Include your rising stars in implementing as many of the ideas as you can so they’ll learn while they are contributing. Be sure to check in with your rising stars at least once a trimester to see how they feel about your progress.

By undertaking this process and engaging the firm’s rising stars, you’ll be well on your way to securing your firm’s future.

Editor’s note: Jennifer Wilson is a member of the CPA Consultants’ Alliance.

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Jennifer Wilson is a partner and co-founder of ConvergenceCoaching LLC, a leadership and marketing consulting and coaching firm that helps leaders achieve success. Learn more about the company and its services at www.convergencecoaching.com.