Herewith the next installment in our series of articles on the always charged issue of compensation, from Richard Rapp.
Like the heads of most law firms, I had no training in management when I became president of a professional service partnership and I did a lot of on-the-job learning during my early years. Things went well and the business grew to the point that a governance overhaul was needed. Decision-making responsibility had to be distributed more widely, we needed to elect a larger, more effective management committee and the mechanism for partner pay decisions needed to become (I confess) less capricious.
I had to be told all this but I was happy to go along and even engineer the process as it was a natural progression for an enterprise that had grown too large to be managed single-handedly. It was at that moment I did a very smart thing – I had lunch with a friend who had experience in this sort of change management. Here, approximately, is the transcript of that conversation:
Me: I’m all for this. It’s a healthy development for a growing enterprise. So I’m going to hold a big partners meeting and give everyone a chance to state their views about what needs to be fixed and about how to do it. Then we’ll get down to business.
Friend: What you are proposing is a recipe for a contentious, disastrous mess.
Me: How come? Prior managerial behavior notwithstanding, I’m a big believer in democracy.
Friend: Then perhaps you’ve noticed that democracy happens in voting booths with curtains. Just because you’ve got a vocal, articulate bunch of partners doesn’t mean that everyone will get to have their say. What you are planning to stage is a field-day for the strident and disaffected. It’s an opportunity to shout. The thoughtful, the uncommitted will be drowned out and what you rightly say is a healthy development will start off with people saying, “Well, I never realized things were this bad.”