On Why Partners Don’t Get It

In recent weeks, I have spoken with nearly ten firms from around Australia on their desire to move from the “firm of the past” model (timesheets, billing at the end, micromanagement etc) to the “Firm of the Future” model as espoused by the Verasage Institute ( and Ron Baker et al.

In all of the discussions, it has shown out that the biggest barrier that these firms face relates to micromanagement by the Partners/Directors of their people.  The soul-destroying and de-motivating nature of this management approach is incredible. 

Imagine if you will, an office full of highly experienced and qualified people who are wanting to help their customers achieve great things.  Imagine further that these people are very smart who also want to contribute to the success of the business within which they work.

Now imagine what happens when the Partners or Directors of that business will not allow anything to be done without their direct involvement, nothing goes out unless it is signed by a Partner or Director, no customer interview happens without a Partner or Director in fact, nothing happens without a Partner or Director being involved.  What message is that sending to the smart, experienced and qualified people working with them?

The message: I DO NOT TRUST YOU.

If your people are not good enough to trust, they are not good enough to employ. 

Many of the Partners and Directors of a lot of accounting and legal firms are highly technically competent people.  Unfortunately, they are not great managers.  I am not sure whether this comes as a result of their training or whether it is a deep-seated personality issue.  Either way, it impacts incredibly negatively on their business.

They simply are unable to see (or, to be honest, appreciate) the exceedingly positive things that flow when you help,  assist and free your team up to be resonsible and accountable and to embrace responsibility.  To show that you trust them.  To allow them to make mistakes – and support them when they do.

I will finish off by providing an example – over the past couple of years, we have been dealing with a customer (fantastic bloke) and have built a relationship with the CFO of the business of which he is a part owner – another firm does their external accounting and tax work.  Now, the CFO has handed in his resignation (relocating due to family issues) so we were approached to come in and assume the role of CFO.  The role will be fantastic and allow our people to utilise a range of skills that they collectively possess across a number of facets of the business.   Fantastic.

But the exiting CFO also wants us to assume a role with the business he is going to.  He loves the relationship he has with our team.  He enjoys the way that we work with him and his colleagues.  And we enjoy the relationship back!

Now, the bottom line.  How much time do I spend on the file?  Precious little.  How much involvement do I have with the original customer?  Very enjoyable lunches ideally every month or so.  How am I involved in the new CFO role we are taking on?  I’m not.  Our fantastic crew are doing it. 

How would this be able to happen if I was micromanaging the whole thing?  It wouldn’t.  No way.

It all happens because we have a team of experienced, smart, qualified and engaged professionals who have the freedom and autonomy to act professionally and use their skills.  Oh, that and the fact that I trust them.

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  • Reply

    Excellent stuff. Last year I heard a short recipe for leadership.
    1. Have a clear vision.
    2. Hire smart, committed people.
    3. Once the smart committed people understand the vision, get out of the way.

    There are similarities between that message and your thesis Mat. A pity more partners/directors of Professional Knowledge Firms don’t get it.

  • Reply

    I agree entirely – but with one caveat – if only I could find the people better than me – it is not for want of trying
    I prefer to be like THE FAT CONTROLLER

    Henry the steam engine(client) gets looked after by the driver(my team) and I do not have to get involved in the day to day routine, because AS LONG AS they follow our systems I can trust them to do a great job.

    However sometimes Henry gets a new route and sometimes the bureaucrats in government create some new rules to interfere with his routine and some drivers can get a bit hot and bothered having to drive Henry up this new hill.

    So it is a help to them to know that THE FAT CONTROLLER is there with all his experience can help maybe suggest a better route to avoid that bl—y hill 🙂

  • Reply

    Great post Mat. I echo everything you say from my own observations and experiences.

    Partners justify their “command & control” non management on the basis of things like “quality control”,”the customer only wants to deal with me”,etc.

    Its not just about the partners not trusting their team (and of course the team in turn doesn’t really trust the partner) but the partner not trusting him/herself to motivate and inspire.

    The old adage “employ people better than me” is true-but little point employing people better than you if,as you point out, you simply micromanage and demotivate them.

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