7 Keys to Success in Managing and Instituting Change Within Your Firm

It’s been said the only constant is change.

Change is necessary for growth, but it can be difficult. Some resist change because of that difficulty. Only, begrudgingly, do they push for changes to processes or technologies, and only when absolutely necessary. Others find that they try to make a change in their firm, but have trouble making it stick.

Change management is often an afterthought, when it should be executed alongside the proposed change. Having a plan for managing change can be more important than the change itself. A well-considered plan can make all the difference when it comes to adoption and adherence in your practice.

Here is a step-by-step plan of what you need to do to ensure a successful transition from your old way of doing things to the new:

1. Define and Communicate the “Why”

Start by looking at why something you’re doing today that has to change – be it a system, a process or a team structure.

The “Why change?” has to be communicated across the entire firm. Everyone needs to understand why a particular way of doing things, or a certain piece of technology or process, is suboptimal and not delivering the desired outcome. Be specific. For example, is it about revenue, getting to the next step or employee perspectives?

It’s important you take the time to define the reason for change – to write it all out – and then communicate the need for the change to the rest of the organization. This rationale is integral to getting people on board, helping you to manage changes in your practice’s workflow.

2. Set Clear Objectives, Goals and Metrics

You need crystal-clear goals, as well as metrics, that will translate the progress into tangible numbers. For example, if you were looking at improving your onboarding process, a clear goal would be to decrease the time it takes to get a client from first conversation to routine business, from, say, 90 to 60 days. A great metric within this goal would be to track the number of days for each phase of the onboarding process. If the number of days starts going down, then you’ll be on track to hit your goal. Clarity like this engenders trust, confidence and accountability in your team.

The objectives you set need to be owned by everyone in the organization. So, while not everyone will be directly influencing the goal, everyone will be indirectly contributing to its success. This means some might need to ladder up to overarching goals of the firm, such as increasing revenue or improving efficiency.

3. Get Everyone Involved in the “What” and “How” of the Change

Remember that “inclusion” should include everyone. Whether someone is on the project team in charge of the change, they still need to be involved, either as a contributor or as a need-to-know member.

If you’re assembling the team that is going to plan, implement and own the change, make sure it’s cross-organizational – both in terms of having someone from every department that may be affected by the change, as well as doers, managers and partners. This is critical to ensure buy-in from everyone in your accounting firm.

If there isn’t cross-organizational buy-in, then failure is almost certain. You will be putting in place a new process or system, in which other members of your practice will not see the value, or will automatically reject because they had no say. Those not included will resist the change – either overtly or subconsciously. The idea of inclusion is super critical to success.

4. Define “As-Is” and “To-Be” Processes

When it comes to business process improvement, you need to identify the role of every person in the practice who is involved, so that each one can understand his or her part in the current process – as-is – and how this will change in the new process – to-be.

Doers:

They have the greatest insight into the processes and tools currently being used (because it’s their day to day). Their involvement in the change project is twofold: they will, of course, use or implement the new systems or processes, but they should also articulate the good, the bad and the ugly so that the change management team can work with these invaluable insights and propose ways in which things could be done differently.

Managers:

They should own the team’s adoption of, and adherence to, the new workflow or system. Team leaders should help with the transition, even bringing together those who are having trouble adopting the changes with others who have a good handle on the new processes. Managers should ensure the new workflow or system is being evaluated over time to ensure ongoing improvements.

Partners:

At the top, partners should own the outcomes and approve the changes proposed. They should make sure the suggested processes fit within the strategic direction of the firm. Effective change is about working within the confines of the team to create processes that are going to be successful, rather than trying to unilaterally push something through.

Buy-in:

Everyone on the team should be on board with the expected outcomes and processes.

Take, for example, changing to value pricing. If one person doesn’t buy in and continues to do hourly billing, others will see this as the easy way out, and all the hard work put into pushing your team and clients down the value pricing path will be wasted. You have to make sure that everyone is on board and understands the expected outcomes, the processes that are going to be used to get there, and their own particular contribution to the change.

It can be a lot of work. It may mean that you’re going from person to person in the office, having a conversation and talking it through: Understanding their situation and their particular issues, as well as re-emphasizing why it’s important and why the process was defined as it was.

Whether everyone fully agrees to the change, it’s more that they have been heard, that their issues have been addressed and that they can buy into the fact that specific changes are happening.

Articulation of the change is a critical step because it only takes a little dissension, frustration or lack of communication to destroy all the good work that has already been done.

5. Ensure Everyone is Held Accountable for Adopting the Change

Now that the change has been put in place, are people adopting it?

Be patient. Change doesn’t happen overnight, and there will be bumps along the way. Don’t fear mistakes – just ensure you learn from them. People who are not adhering to the change, however, need to be held accountable. It could start with a conversation, but if it continues, the non-adherence should be treated appropriately. This goes for everyone. If a senior manager or partner is not adhering to the change as wholeheartedly as everyone else, others will see that and it can create pushback.

6. Communicate, Communicate, Communicate the Change

Anytime you’re making a change, it’s all about communication. It’s not just telling people what to do, but also about telling the whole story of why it’s happening: what will change, what can be their contribution, how change is going to be implemented and what the outcomes are going to be overall.

Communication – even to the point of over-communication  – is the best way to remind people why the change is so important, and to feel a sense of accomplishment, as progress is made towards the right direction.

7. Take Time to Celebrate When the Goals are Met

Lastly, don’t forget to appreciate the fruits of your labor. Taking a step back and celebrating as an organization will set you up well for future changes. (You know you’ll need to implement further changes to keep moving, remain relevant and to thrive – if not survive!)

Celebrations also foster trust, a greater willingness to move forward after a recognized win, team-building and, ultimately, motivation to do it all over again.

In Summary

Change can be tough, especially for risk-averse accounting professionals. To give any new major initiative a chance, you need to have a change management plan in place and execute it diligently throughout the duration of the project. This will ease the stress and pushback that can come from some team members.

A final quote: “Slowness to change,” said management theorist Philip Crosby, “usually means fear of the new.” And, so, with a well-conceived and executed change management plan, your firm can overcome fear and achieve change that brings measurable success. 

About the Author

Ian Vacin

Ian Vacin

With more than 25 years of experience in technology and over 15 years of leadership experience in the accounting industry, Ian is passionate about helping accounting professionals be as successful as possible in order to positively impact the businesses they serve. He is currently a co-founder and the vice president of product marketing at Karbon. Prior to Karbon, spent almost 10 years at Intuit (where he led the QuickBooks ProAdvisor Program and was the Offering Leader of Intuit's Mac Financial Software).

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