Platt’s Perspective: On Slaughtering Sacred Cows

Mike Platt

Mike Platt

It’s no secret that change doesn’t come easily. The best change agents are fundamentally curious, not only wondering why a system or a process is done in a certain way, but digging deep to uncover the root cause. Using the “ask five ‘whys’ ” technique in their exploration, the best leaders will often get past the surface answer and expose what is at the core of a “fundamental truth” about how business is done in their firm.

As an example, consider a common complaint in firms today – staff turnover is high and often the wrong people are leaving. Why is that? Professional staff are often frustrated because they don’t know what it takes to get ahead, and they make a decision – often in a vacuum – based on what they think is their best career move. Why is that? In many firms there is not a well-defined or well-communicated path to advancement from staff person to partner. Why is that? Because often there is not just one path to success, and by defining the path, partners feel they are boxed in to one approach. Why is that? Because when they were coming up, partners had to define their own path and demonstrate their own entrepreneurial “chops” to get ahead, and often feel that handing a defined plan to someone is short-circuiting what it takes to get ahead. And why is that? Because ultimately partners believe that the staff haven’t yet paid their dues and should not be given a free ride.

This ultimate partner belief – that staff haven’t paid their dues – contributes to high turnover rates and may no longer serve the firm the right way. This type of a belief system is an example of a sacred cow of the profession.

What other sacred cows should be analyzed? See how many of these beliefs you recognize in your own firm:
1. Our pyramid-shaped business model is the key to a successful firm going forward.
2. There is no time for additional value-added work during busy season.
3. Partners own the relationships.
4. Partners are best to run the firm.
5. As a partner, no one else can do what I do.
6. Minimum hours are required during tax season.
7. Face time is critical, the team needs to be in the office.
8. Entry point to a client is compliance services.
9. Technology can’t replace what we do.
10. We need to treat all clients like “A” clients.
11. Career success = Partnership.
12. Firm success = Net Income per Partner.
13. Traditional metrics tell us all we need to know about our success.
14. We are a service organization, not a sales organization.
15. High quality work will ensure that we keep our best clients.

Without a doubt, many sacred cows exist in firms today, and the list above is just a fraction of the many (outdated?) belief systems that dominate the profession. Ask your partner group and key staff to identify their own list. Slaughtering these sacred cows can be a liberating experience for all involved, and will make room for a new set of beliefs that will better serve the firm by propelling everyone into a more successful future.