You may well ask, where did I find a title like this? I doubt that you have ever wondered what Sir Isaac Newton has to do with running a CPA firm - or, for that matter, any business.While everyone knows Newton as the discoverer of gravity, it's really his three laws concerning the behavior of moving objectives that are meaningful today. Even though these laws were defined 320 years ago, they can help explain the behavior of some of your partners today. His laws of motion apply to physical entities operating in space, and describe how these entities interact. However, they can just as easily be applied to human entities interacting in an environment of workplace change.


Newton's First Law of Motion is often called the Law of Inertia. For those history buffs, it was actually formulated by Galileo many years before. His First Law states: "Every object in a state of uniform motion tends to remain in that state of motion unless an external force is applied to it."

In my more than 20 years of consulting with accounting firms, I have noticed that change is often slow and painful. Most partners don't like change, and I sometimes facetiously feel like putting partners into one of two categories - those who move and those who don't. I now realize that I could apply Sir Isaac's First Law to the accountant's fear of change.

If you are trying to implement any change initiative in your firm, think of the following:

* 1. If an object (simply replace the word "object" with "partner") is motionless, it will stay motionless unless acted upon by some force (replace the word "force" with "managing partner" or "executive committee"). Partners who are not moving will remain motionless unless you apply a force to push them to do something different or to pull them along. Either way, to get these partners to move, your force must be greater than their inertia. Now, you may think that this will solve your problems - but keep reading.

* 2. What about partners who are moving? The same concept applies. If an object is moving at a constant speed, it will continue at that speed unless acted upon by some force along the line of motion. Partners who are moving - either with the firm or against it - will continue to move unless you apply a force in the opposite direction to slow them down or to push them forward faster. And once you stop pushing, these partners will often revert to the speed they once had.

* 3. If an object is moving, it will move in a straight line unless acted upon at an angle by some force. Again, you must apply a force on a partner in order not to make them always go in a straight line.

Once your change initiative gets going, think about what will keep it moving towards your goal. The change program will need a force to get it going, and will need a force to move it to each new level. Also, given the natural inertia in all organizations, if the driving forces dissipate, the program will eventually come to a halt.

To me, this law means that the managing partner can never stop exerting force on the partner group to get them to move toward the firm's strategic vision. This does not mean that the managing partner acts as a dictator, but rather that they must continue to exert positive forces that keep everyone moving in the right direction.

Newton's Second Law

The Second Law is sometimes called the Law of Dynamics, because it concerns forces and what causes objects to move. It can be stated as: "The acceleration of an object of constant mass is proportional to the force acting upon it."

Again, think of the object as being your partners, and the force to keep them moving as various techniques you use:

* Developing systems of reward and recognition;

* Creating performance evaluation programs;

* Tying compensation to strategic initiatives; and,

* Ensuring that partners live the firm's core values.

This principle tells us that the more pronounced the resistance to change is, the more diligently you will need to increase the strength of the force. Partners will resist change for a variety of reasons, ranging from a straightforward intellectual disagreement over facts to deep-seated psychological prejudices. Some of these reasons for partner resistance may include:

* Believing change is only a temporary fad;

* Fear of losing authority, status or control;

* Fear of learning new skills; and,

* Suffering from a change overload.

Make sure that you understand the reasons for their resistance. Finally, think about and record what concrete steps you will take to institutionalize the change, and who will be responsible for each action.

Newton's Third Law

Newton's Third Law is sometimes called the Law of Action-Reaction. It reads: "Whenever one body exerts force upon a second body, the second body exerts an equal and opposite force upon the first body."

Most managing partners can relate to this law. You want to move the firm in one direction, and there are several different types of forces (e.g., partners) that push back. Many managing partners have told me that for every action they take, there is often an equal and opposite reaction.

When Newton's Third Law pokes its head at your firm, consider these things:

* Communicate openly and often;

* Understand the resisting forces;

* Develop support from other influential partners;

* Don't resort to sarcasm and other methods that serve to attack people's sense of self-esteem; and,

* Decrease your drive forward, which should decrease the resistant force.


These laws can be verified at any CPA firm in the country, and they may help us understand how and why our partners move when forces are applied to them, and why they don't move if we leave them to their own wiles.

August Aquila, Ph.D, is CEO of Aquila Global Advisors and Chantrey Capital Advisors. He helps firms with succession planning, compensation plans, mergers and acquisitions, and strategic initiatives. Reach him at or (952) 930-1295.

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