Platt’s Perspective: “Trust” And “Control” Are Two Sides Of The Same Coin

Kelly and I were traveling through the San Francisco airport at the end of March for a business meeting, and encountered two people in a long line at the car rental counter. We struck up a conversation and found out that they are CPAs [senior managers] at a midsize firm who were on their way to a ski trip in Lake Tahoe.

“Wow, you don’t find many CPAs taking vacation this time of year,” we both said. “How can you afford to leave the firm in the middle of tax season?” They proceeded to tell us about the team that they left behind, the trust they had in the team, and the comfort level they had with the systems and processes to ensure that everything kept working while they were gone.

“Trust” and “control” are two sides of the same coin that need to be properly balanced for a firm to operate efficiently. At the extremes, too much trust without systems can result in anarchy and productivity will suffer. Too much control without reliance on the professional judgment of your staff leads to blind compliance and a slow, gradual disintegration of enthusiasm and engagement in the firm.

In recent weeks, several big corporations have canceled work-from-home arrangements and shut down “results only” work environments because trust and control were out of balance. Throughout this month’s issue, several stories highlight CPA firm issues that stem from the same problem.

As you begin to wind up tax season and proceed into the planning stages, be sure you take the time internally to address the right balance between trust and control. Is it out of whack in your firm? What are some of the symptoms that things are not properly balanced? What policies are in place that are either too light or too heavy on either trust or control that stop you from achieving the ideal situation? Have you ever asked your partners to think about this? Have you ever asked your staff what their perceptions are?

Now is a great time of year to get engaged in the discussion in your office. Communication is always the key to better understanding and better execution of the firm’s goals, and identifying obstacles and solutions to achieving those goals is actually much easier once they see the light of day. We encourage all IPA readers to consider what the proper balance of trust and control should be within your firm, and act now to fine-tune your environment. That is, of course, unless you are heading out for a ski trip in the next few days.

Mike Platt is a principal with the Platt Group and can be reached at