Ask the Right Questions to Transform to a Firm of the Future Practice

Peter Block’s book, “The Answer to How is Yes: Acting on What Matters,” isn’t a typical book on leadership and transformation. There are no checklists, best practices or very many examples of companies that have successfully implemented the ideas.

But, if you want to transform your firm into a Firm of the Future, this slim volume just might provide you with the inspiration you’ll need to get there. Just be prepared to think deeply about what has meaning for you, your firm and your clients.

The epigram in the book gives fair warning to what lies inside: “Transformation comes more from pursuing profound questions than seeking practical answers.” By asking better – and deeper – questions, Block believes we can find a path forward that engages all parties involved: a path that meets the needs of the stakeholders while creating a workplace of committed individuals who are doing work that matters to them personally.

As accountants, we love practicality. We love certainty and approaches that work, but according to Block, people in business ask the “How?” questions too early.

  • How do we do this?
  • How much will it cost?
  • How long will it take?
  • How do you get these people to change?
  • How do we measure it?
  • How are other people doing this?

These are questions about methodology and practicality. They are not unimportant, but when we ask them too early, they act as defense mechanisms – as reasons not to pursue a new idea, or as justification to deny ourselves the opportunity to create something that really matters.

To move away from the obstacle of practicality, Block urges the reader to replace the “How” questions with “Yes” questions. Block’s Yes questions are “a symbol of our stance towards the possibility of meaningful change.”

  • “How do you do it?” becomes “What refusal have I been postponing?” Applied to an accounting or bookkeeping firm, this can be “What work do we need to stop doing? What work do I, as a firm owner, need to delegate to others?”
  • “How long will it take?” becomes “What commitment am I willing to make?” True transformation always takes longer than we think and more effort than we imagined at the outset.
  • “How much does it cost?” becomes “What price am I willing to pay?” As Block points out, “What is most valuable cannot be purchased at a discount.” Are you willing to move your firm out of the familiar into uncharted territory?
  • “How do you get these people to change?” becomes “What is my contribution to the problem I’m concerned about?” This question affirms that we play a role in creating the workplaces and the world we want. Am I, myself, willing to change to create a better firm for everyone?
  • “How do we measure it?” becomes “What is the crossroad at which I find myself at this point in my work/life? What unfulfilled desire or purpose am I seeking?”
  • “How are other people doing this successfully?” becomes “What do we want to create together? What kind of firm do we want to create? What kinds of work and what kinds of clients do we want to serve?”

To answer these questions and act on them, Block writes that we need to bring more idealism, intimacy and depth into our lives:

  • Idealism is the desire to create something bigger than ourselves for the sake of creation, not merely for the monetary or status rewards. As Block puts it, idealism is the belief “that people want to contribute to an institution and need not be purchased to do so. Paid yes, but purchased no.”
  • Intimacy cannot be replaced by automation and machinery. Intimacy in our relationships with clients, co-workers and family is where the magic happens. It means opening up to conversations where we don’t have all the answers. It means not taking refuge behind email and texts, but instead meeting face to face.
  • Depth means serious thought and reflection, which takes time. Depth has become a luxury few of us feel we can indulge in. “Speed becomes a reason to settle for lower quality and ignore our desires.”

In the final section of the book, Block urges leaders to take on the role of social architect “to design and bring into being organizations that serve both the marketplace and the soul of the people who work in them.”

That’s an apt description of the many of the speakers and firm leaders I met at last year’s QuickBooks® Connect. Will your firm be the 2018 Firm of the Future?