Partners: When To Speak Up and When To Shut Up

Sometimes the team needs to come first.

By Marc Rosenberg
The Rosenberg Practice Management Library

To paraphrase Shakespeare: When to speak up and when to shut up – that is the question. There are times partners should speak their minds and times they should remain silent.

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A great managing partner once told me, “If you’re not building the firm, then you’re not a partner.”  This post is about two ways (there are others) that partners build the firm. First, by speaking up when your partners need to hear what you think.

Secondly, there are times when partners are tempted to disregard a firm policy, strategy or core value that they disagree with. These are times when partners should shut up and choose “team” over “me.”

SPEAK UP. When the firm is facing controversial or sensitive issues, partners have an obligation to speak up and let their opinions be known. When partners withhold their thoughts, they abrogate their obligation as partners by denying fellow owners their wisdom. In a war, it may be appropriate for a country to declare its neutrality, but it’s rarely acceptable for a partner to take a neutral position in a CPA firm.

SHUT UP. When there is a strong consensus by the partner group to move forward on a decision that you disagree with, shut up if the basis for your disagreement is self-serving. Team first.

SPEAK UP. When a partner sees something that’s not right (a partner neglects his/her billing and collection, berates a staff person in the open or observes a policy or practice that is inefficient), speak up. Don’t assume that the MP or the COO sees everything that’s going on. Bring the issue to their attention. Drive change.

SHUT UP. When staff suggest different ways of doing things, say in a workflow process, shut up and listen. Judge the suggestions on their merit, not on the rank of the staff person. If a suggestion has merit, try to accommodate it.

SPEAK UP. When your firm is stagnant because your partners are fat and happy with their high partner incomes, speak up or no one else will. Firms that accept the status quo today will fail tomorrow. Follow the rule of conduct of baseball umpires: Be mobile, be assertive and be loud.

SHUT UP. When the MP, COO or a fellow partner suggests that you are neglecting something important, shut up and listen. Suck in your ego and be accountable for your behavior and performance by resolving the issue. Partners are never “entitled” to break the rules whenever they want to.

SPEAK UP.  When a client or fellow partner asks you to bend the rules, take a shortcut or turn a blind eye to an impropriety, speak up and tell them that the firm’s culture is based on integrity and honesty. Transgressions are never allowed, even if it means a negative short-term impact on profits.

SHUT UP. Never pull rank. When confronted by a staff person, client or fellow partner with a change in a routine or process, don’t reject it out of hand because “you know better because of your years of experience and track record” or “that’s the way we’ve always done it.” Shut up and just do it.

SPEAK UP. When a new firmwide project is created and the firm needs a volunteer to head it up, speak up and take the lead. As said earlier, “if you’re not building the firm, then you’re not a partner.”

SHUT UP. If a partner is toiling like a worker bee, hoarding clients and racking up huge amounts of billable hours and your partners suggest you need to be more of a team player by delegating some of this work to staff, shut up and heed the advice. It’s more important what partners do with their non-billable than billable time.

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