This isn't one firm, it's many. This happens several times a year.
A partner calls to tell me, "Sam is leaving...just gave notice...." Sam is typically going to another firm or into industry.
Sam is a key player. Male or female, Sam is usually an associate or more senior "staff" person. Someone with 3-6 years of experience. A solid up-and-comer. Someone we all had high hopes for.
I'll get the call because Sam was an integral part of the development of a practice group. Sam is usually a pretty decent marketer...gets it. Understands service and relationships. Knows what it takes to make and keep a client happy. And a good enough technician to lead more junior people.
Partners rely on Sam and clients trust Sam. Sam was damn good at a lot of things. Everybody spoke well of Sam.
No one ever said Sam was perfect (no Sam ever is...) but Sam was probably going to be a partner, maybe even the next partner. Nobody had a problem with that...they were glad. Sam was good for the firm.
The firm is a decent firm. Good people who are well-meaning. Average pay. But a typical firm in the sense that deadlines are many and positive feedback is rare. Culture is decent but delegation, training, and mentoring aren't what they ought to be and the partners know they should work on this.
Sam was hope and promise for the firm's next generation. The younger team members looked up to Sam and Sam mentored them. It's a crying shame that Sam left.
It's what happens after Sam leaves that I'm writing about today.
People are heard saying, "Sam wasn't all that good, anyway." Sam <gasp> made some mistakes now and then. Sam could have been better. We'll get by without Sam. No big deal.
Truth? Or sour grapes?
You lose one Sam and maybe it IS just Sam. After all, if Sam got itchy, and no one even saw it coming, something wasn't right. Sam might have been a disloyal, untrustworthy bum. So, okay, it was Sam and not the firm.
But firms tend to lose a lot of Sams. How do I know? Partly because I get a good number of these calls.
But I also know this because lots of firms (across the accounting and legal professions) say they don't have successors. They report that, among their most senior people, none are really strong leaders or "partner material."
It doesn't seem to occur to the firms that they've had lots of Sams over the years, but the Sams were the most ambitious of their people. The most innovative. And the most antsy. They moved on.
Could the Sams see that there wasn't the type of opportunity for entrepreneurial leadership that they hoped for within the firm? Or the timeframe they desired? Could they see that firms are resistant to change and likely to do things the same way they've always been done?
In some firms, all the Sams have moved on. The Sams, being the most leadership-oriented team members, moved on and left the more laid-back, content non-Sams behind. The non-Sams are least likely to want to lead or to develop business.
If this has happened in your firm, don't be unreasonably disappointed in the people who remain. It's not that you have a bad lot--these non-Sam types are necessary, too. It's just that you've lost 'balance' in your mix or blend. Losing the more outgoing performers leaves you with the more steady, calm do-ers.
Moral(s) of the story:
If you lose more than one Sam every couple years, or if you tend to lose your Sams at about the same point in their career, it's probably you, not them. If you're in such a situation, it's most likely a result of one or more characteristics of your firm's culture. It's not usually money.
It's awfully easy to let feelings of betrayal and disappointment about Sam departures lull you into a "well, we didn't want them anyway" mindset. But this defensive mentality prevents you from learning what you need to know to make sure you don't keep losing Sams!
Look carefully at why they're leaving. Try to be open to other perspectives on what it's like to work and build a career in your firm. Understand and accept the REAL reasons people leave.
Then do what you need to do to provide the environment and culture that inspires your Sams to stay, grow, and eventually lead.