I could not find who originally said it. But the following quote is one that I heard from a management consultant friend of mine on a regular basis. He said the definition of a secret is
“merely information that is passed one person at a time”.
His point was that any information you give or action you take in front of anyone at the firm is at risk of being communicated to another person in the firm. It does not matter if the information is personal or professional or if the information was given accidentally or on purpose.
Therefore, you should keep to yourself anything that you do not want the partner group to know.
Breaking the Rules
I know that you are going to break the rule I just noted to you. All of us do it at one time or another. We form friendships with our coworkers and we want to talk with them about our personal and professional lives.
But keep in mind that every time you do it, you need to consider the following questions:
- Would this information put my career at this firm at risk if it was discovered by the partners?
- Do I need to take this risk with this person?
- Will I gain anything from disclosing this information?
- Is it truly worth the risk?
You should assume that no information that you give the
- human resources group,
- the partner group, or
- your mentor
will be kept private.
This fact does not make any of them bad people. But they have an obligation to the firm, to the other partners, and to their own career that is greater than their obligation to you. If it is in their self-interest to disclose the information then it is likely that they will do it. Welcome to the world of public accounting.
Another problem is that it is likely you will not find out this information has been shared with other employees until it is too late to do anything about it. In fact, there will be instances when one of these groups thinks that they are doing you a favor by disclosing the information to others to help you with a problem. But they will have made that decision without getting your approval.
How Others View Your Secret
Here is the following ranking as to how those groups are going to process the information you have given to them:
- Does this information impact my career at the firm?
- Does keeping this information impact the financial situation of the firm?
- Will I get into trouble for keeping this information from the partner group?
- Would this information make it less likely that the firm should promote this person?
- Am I willing to take the risk of keeping this information secret based on the answers to the prior questions?
I know that the above statements sound rather cold-hearted. I hope that everything that you decide to tell another firm employee is kept secret. But think about the information that you hear about others in the firm and decide if they wanted that information kept secret. My guess is that they decided to only “tell a secret” to one person as well.
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