Agribusiness advisory, just like agribusiness in general, is due for generational change. Here’s how to make sure you’re acquiring the best talent in your business.
It wouldn’t be much of a generalisation to characterise both agribusiness advisors and owners as mainly older, hopefully wiser and definitely closer to the end of their careers than the start.
While experienced heads have served the sector well, no one can go on forever and with the rapid pace of change in both technology and regulation we should no longer assume that older and more experienced is always better in all circumstances.
As Kiwi agribusinesses go through generational change, evolve to embrace more corporate ownership models and face a broader range of business and regulatory challenges, the modern rural practice needs to bring through new talent with the skills and fresh perspective to match.
With such a difficult niche to master in a competitive skills market, how can you acquire and foster talent that propels your practice forward?
Lay out your organisational capability in different areas such as compliance, succession, budgeting, specialist tax advice, governance and so on, and see how it compares to the needs of your current clients and the plan you have to grow the business.
Identify not only who has the skills now, but those with the ability to develop into certain areas. As part of this, assign team members as specialists or go-to leaders internally in certain areas. Who is your best succession planner? Who has the most knowledge in terms of dealing with finance/lending and the banks and so on?
Make sure everyone knows who they are, encourage staff to engage them to up-skill or bring them in to advise clients who are having challenges in their areas of expertise.
Put your best foot forward in the recruitment market to fill the gaps in your talent map.
Good people are hard to find and even harder to acquire, so you need to be constantly looking and relentlessly in following up opportunities.
Advisory is a people centric game, you cannot skimp on it or your business will suffer, so be prepared to invest the right amount in not only the hunt for (you may need to use a specialist recruiter) but also in the acquisition of good talent.
Put your focus on hiring those with skills you can’t train.
You can train most people to do the basics of accounting, but you can’t train personality. And in an ever more advice-driven industry, it’s those soft skills that are key and that should indicate where you should invest effort to foster talent.
Top young talent today doesn’t want to wait 10 years to speak to a client face-to-face and 20 years to become a partner.
If you’ve recruited new, extroverted people with the right skillset and temperament to be good advisors, don’t expect them to sit behind a computer doing annual accounts for the next decade before you set them loose on clients or they will be long gone by then.
Make sure senior advisors hold joint meetings with clients to bring them in early on specific things. Then give them the jobs that leverage their skillset. It will help them learn and will save your senior staff time. For example, have them help with creating budgets and/or scenarios prior to client meetings. It will get them used to how an agribusiness works. They will learn more from you being involved as opposed to being stuck behind a desk coding Tom from Tapanui’s shoebox of receipts.
Don’t let your senior advisors get comfortable with big client books and just sit on them; hand over 10-15 percent of their client book each year to new advisors and make them hunt new work.
Set advisors a target of referrals to specialists or other services as well. They are your best people they need to be bringing in the bacon and feeding the rest of the family. This will also help gradually bring new people through with minimal change and upheaval as opposed to wholesale change each time someone retires.
This process might require tweaks to remuneration models and incentives, but given the rate of change in this sector, those tweaks are absolutely necessary.
The wisdom can go both ways from senior advisors down in terms of how to manage clients and build a trusted relationship, while old heads can learn from the new guns on how to use modern accounting software to add more value at less cost to clients.
Advisory at scale is a real thing in today’s world. Using tools like MYOB Advisor, your senior relationship holders can work in tandem with younger up-and-comers to tackle clients and their business challenges together en masse.
So don’t get complacent in your practice. Challenge the norms. Invest time and energy to foster talent with the aim of securing a future-focused view of your business.
New people with new approaches are not a threat to the old heads, they’re your best opportunity to stay relevant.