How do we define who we are?
One way of looking at it is that we are each a balance of our past and our potential. On the one hand, we’re all a product of what’s come before, shaped by our experiences and showcased in our achievements. On the other, we are so much untapped potential, with the latent capacity to break new ground, strive for further targets and reach as-yet-unimagined goals.
When you’re leading a business, it’s this balance that you’re looking for, both within each individual and across the company as a whole. Where have we been, who are we now, and what do we want the future to look like – and have we got the right balance of experience and potential to get there?
Taking the direct route
When it comes to career paths, I took the direct route. I left school at 16, opting out of A’ Levels and university in favour of an apprenticeship with my local building society. I worked at getting my professional qualifications and then a degree in business management while I was in full-time employment.
I knew what I wanted from day one, so I could be completely focused and single-minded in my progress. So much so that a couple of years later, when I told the owner of financial advisory firm Lawrence Scoffield that I would join the firm only if I could buy it, he was somewhat taken aback!
I can understand why, because I was 24 years old at the time, but I had seen an opportunity and I felt that I had the balance of past and potential to turn it into a success. In 2008, I led a management buyout of Lawrence Scoffield, which later became Progeny, and the rest is history – a new page of which we are writing every day. (Learn more about Progeny’s history here).
Laying the foundations
It’s easy to fall into the conventional trap of thinking that success only comes with seniority, but what my experience has taught me is that youth should be no barrier to accomplishment – quite the opposite in fact. At Progeny we passionately believe that it’s not simply about age or time-served. Your past is about what you’ve done, not how long you’ve been doing it.
Last year we launched our Adviser Academy, which has been specifically designed to help our junior team members not just achieve the right qualifications for their financial future but also gather the additional skills they’ll need to become the financial planners and industry leaders of tomorrow.
The Academy helps them develop a deeper level of understanding of how the financial planning profession works and provides exposure to a whole range of skills and experiences that would ordinarily take years to acquire.
With mentoring and a carefully structured approach, those on the programme have the opportunity to learn and gain meaningful experience from senior colleagues. The result, we believe, will be a new team emerging through the ranks with experience, expertise and intuition, who can provide a seamless transition at the top when the time comes.
Cultivate the culture
Additionally, as this recent article from the Harvard Business Review points out, cultivating the right culture within the business can be a more informal and flexible complement to a structured mentoring programme when looking to nurture tomorrow’s talent.
For example, at our group-wide training day earlier this month, we invited junior team members to pair up with a senior colleague to give a presentation in tandem on the day; an opportunity to learn the sort of skills that books don’t teach.
When we sat down to decide on the values, aims and future direction of the business recently, this was not just the preserve of our senior management team. We held identical discussions with junior colleagues to make sure that their input was sought, heard and used to define the future of Progeny.
These more informal methods are just as important as the Adviser Academy in readying the next generation. And it doesn’t just work one way; it’s a mutually beneficial arrangement. Younger staff gain invaluable experience; the business gets a pipeline of fresh ideas.
Giving shape to ambitions
This mindset can be found in other successful businesses. When Alison Rose was appointed chief executive of RBS last year, she became the first woman to lead one of the UK’s big four banks. Rose joined the bank 27 years earlier as a graduate trainee, straight out of education.
If anyone knows what it takes to get to the top of your field, it’s her, and she has spoken recently about how she encourages this at RBS. One of their techniques is to have an empty chair at every board meeting. Whenever the board sits, they invite a different junior member of staff to sit in.
It’s a way of demystifying what goes on behind the frosted glass, but it’s also a way of making the experience accessible. It literally opens the door to younger staff, and gives focus and shape to their ambitions.
Broad, inclusive succession planning
If you’re serious about investing in future talent, this needs to be reflected in the opportunities you create for those coming up, and how you empower them to step up and take control. It’s real long-term thinking and succession planning in the broadest and most inclusive sense.
For a business to be truly viable and valuable, it needs to have intrinsic worth beyond its senior management team. The real value is not with them, it is in how poised and prepared the business is for the years ahead.
Only with the right plan for nurturing the next generation can you turn your past and your potential into a successful future.