BY L. GARY BOOMER
Clarity reduces resistance
In order for change to happen, people and organizations must adopt new behaviors. Most in the accounting profession admit
that change is necessary, but honesty about
the situation doesn’t make change easy or
fast. The gravity of the past is generally more
compelling and less risky to many than the
potential reward of the future. With this
said, internal and external forces are driving
change at an increasing pace.
Lack of understanding of change management is one of the most significant dangers
that firms identify in strategic planning sessions (along with growth and succession).
Change management is a skill, and those in
our industry know they need it; nevertheless,
few firms offer or seek out related training.
How can firms better manage change?
Before we answer that, let’s explore some
prevalent myths associated with change that
hold firms back and make change management more difficult than it needs to be:
1. Education is the key.
2. Incremental is better than exponential
3. Don’t move too quickly.
4. I’m not part of that change.
Though widespread, these assumptions
don’t have to be and should not be the norm.
Let’s examine the myths before considering
some guidance and tools that can make the
process less stressful and more rewarding.
People don’t change with education alone,
and education takes time. While the mind is
both emotional and rational, the emotional
side typically dominates when it comes to
change. Education is usually good, but it can
be time-consuming and expensive without
significant results. Leadership, communication and coaching provide a greater array of
positive results. Providing a compelling vision
and pathways to achievement is imperative.
People become tired and stressed if change
Gary Boomer, CPA, is the president of
Boomer Consulting, in Manhattan, Kan.
takes too long. Short-term pain is generally
better than long-term suffering. The industry has witnessed a significant push toward
paperless and document management initiatives over the past 15 years, and this offers
a good example. Firms that have done it are
reaping the rewards, while those that haven’t
are still holding meetings and arguing about
procedures. Your firm is better off to “Just Do
It” — like the Nike commercials suggest.
DON’T MOVE TOO QUICKLY
This is often associated with incremental
change. Sometimes incremental change is
appropriate, but in today’s environment, exponential change is occurring in technology
(moving from client-server applications to
cloud computing systems), succession (Baby
Boomers retiring faster than new people
entering the profession) and the economic
model (hours x dollars no longer represents
value in a results-based economy).
I’M NOT A PART OF THE CHANGE
Improved technology typically benefits those
lowest on the organization chart first, while
those making decisions are often least impacted. However, they must not allow their
skills to become obsolete, or put themselves
outside of processes and workflow, or they
become candidates for early retirement and
buyout. Employability for a lifetime is different from employment for a lifetime.
Change can be positive or negative. The
best way to predict short-term results is to
look at initiatives the firm is currently executing. If your firm is ignoring changes in technology, succession, the market and regulation, chances are high that in one year it will
be worse off than today. On the other hand,
if its focus is on the “big rocks” and making
progress, the situation should improve.
Now to answer the question, “How can
firms better manage change?” It takes multiple skills and a team approach to succeed.
The following are required:
1. A shared vision and plan.
2. Leadership and management.
3. Discipline and commitment.
4. Coaching and accountability.
5. Reality and communications.
These may seem reasonable and within
reach of most firms, yet execution is the most
significant challenge. The process is more like
managing a simultaneous, three-act play
than working from a sequential checklist.
It requires planning, people and processes,
with technology as the accelerator.
SHARED VISION AND A PLAN
Most firms have a vision of some sort; in fact,
some have as many visions as partners (this is
a big risk to a firm’s long-term viability). The
challenge is to develop and communicate a
single vision that is shared and supported by
the firm’s values.
Your firm’s plan should be formally documented and no longer than one page, because
it’s impossible to effectively communicate or
accomplish more objectives than can fit on a
single page. The plan should contain strategic
objectives, measurements of success, initiatives for each strategic objective, due dates
Once the firm’s strategic plan is approved,
each partner and manager should develop
a personal 90-day game plan that supports
the firm’s strategic plan. After a successful
year at the partner and manager levels, individual 90-day game plans should be required
for everyone in the firm. Discipline and right
behavior must start at the top, and permit no
“sacred cows.” If anyone, including a partner,
refuses to participate, that person should be
required to get off the bus.
LEADERSHIP AND MANAGEMENT
Leadership is absolutely necessary to ensure
commitment. High-level, significant changes
require significant involvement from leadership. Changes associated with efficiency
and effectiveness can be implemented by
management, but the process takes less time
with involvement from leadership. Change
is much easier in firms with great leadership
and management. In fact, difficult and impossible change in other firms may be routine
in firms with great leadership and management. Remember that management must
have authority as well as responsibility.
DISCIPLINE AND COMMITMENT
Behavioral changes require discipline. This
is true for people as well as organizations.
Weight-loss plans can be effective, but they
require commitment to execute. Commitment is typically gained through the planning
process. It is also influenced by the culture. A
culture with a high level of trust can implement change faster and less expensively. In a
low-trust culture, the firm pays a tax through
increased time and expense.
ACCOUNTABILITY AND COACHING
Change typically does not occur in organizations where people are not held accountable.
This is the No. 1 obstacle in most firms, and
I believe it’s a reflection of the partnership
form of governance and a tendency to undervalue management. Organizations with a
CEO form of governance implement change
with greater ease and efficiency. Accountability starts at the top, and coaching is a key
to successful change. Great coaches build the
team while helping individuals play to their
potential (or even better).
REALITY AND COMMUNICATION
Every change management initiative has
peaks and valleys. Great managers prepare
their teams for success and adversity during the process. Knowing what to do during
periods of adversity builds confidence and
commitment to get through difficult times.
The skills required to successfully implement change are diverse. Don’t hesitate to
go outside of your firm to acquire them, but
remember that you must do the heavy lifting. Consultants can help by providing clarity, capabilities and accountability, resulting
in time savings and reduced costs.
The planning process provides the path
and clarity in an increasingly complex business environment. Simplification reduces
resistance and builds confidence, allowing
an individual and an organization to grow
and reach the next level. Your strategic plan
is the foundation for managing change. Make
sure it is relevant and up to date. AT