Customizing talent development: Walter & Shuffain's homegrown leadership program helps the firm advance its most promising people.

Author:Ramly, Yasmine El-

Fast-growing firms must confront the challenge of keeping pace with succession and staff development demands. Boston-based Walter & Shuffain PC is meeting this challenge with a customized leadership and staff development program that sets a framework for advancement and helps the firm accelerate promising people along the path to leadership.

The practice has experienced fast growth over the past two decades, and firm leaders are now making strategic decisions about the firms future. In 1990, the firm had 25 professionals and five partners. Today, it has 70 professionals and eight partners. While bringing in new recruits has not been a problem, the firm faced challenges in finding and retaining senior staff and getting them ready for leadership roles. The current ratio of professionals to partners is comparable to firms in their region, said partner Angela Parziale, CPA. She attributes the growth of professionals in relation to partners to the continual increase in the complexity of standards, which has made it necessary to bring on more people to serve clients.

"We think our size and growth rate are perfect," said William Cooper, CPA, a partner also involved in the effort. The firm offers a wide range of services while maintaining good relationships with staff and clients. "But we have to retain staff to maintain those relationships," he said.

The firm's leadership is made up of three senior partners who are between five and 10 years from retirement and five "NextGen" partners who are all under age 45. Two of the NextGen partners started with the firm as first-year staff. "We realize that our staff are the future of the firm," said Parziale, who is one of the NextGen partners spearheading the program. "And we want to keep W&S sustainable. We don't want to be forced to merge into a larger firm to address our growth and succession needs."

Many CPA firms are having success with such advancement programs, according to an AICPA survey conducted in 2017. Almost half (45%) of the 492 respondents said their firms use mentoring programs, and 87% of them said those programs have an impact on attracting or retaining talent. Recruiting and retention also were affected at an overwhelming majority of firms that have sponsorship programs, gender initiatives, combined diversity and inclusion programs, and minority initiatives, according to the survey. So Walter & Shuffain's promising results with its program are aligned with trends being seen across the accounting profession.


Walter & Shuffain's NextGen group assigned itself the task of developing a two-part program aimed at preparing current and emerging leaders and training them to spearhead a staff leadership program. The program kicked off in the fall of 2016 with the five NextGen partners each championing three people. Here's how it works:

  1. The partner group nominates participants with a minimum of four years' experience and leadership potential. That potential may be observed as willingness to take on more challenging work, engaging in mentoring with younger staff, building client relationships, or earning the respect of peers and staff.

  2. The participants are assigned to partners who act as champions. They work together to develop short- and long-term goals and develop a career path for the proteges. Each partner is responsible for setting up the initial meeting with the people he or she will champion. The meeting includes determining where the protege stands in relation to core competencies that the firm has identified, which encompass technical, practice development, and practice management...

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