Hal, heart attacks and change
Meet Hal. Hal was a 54-year-old CPA who
ate and drank a little too much and didn’t get
to the gym as often as he should. He smoked
about a pack of cigarettes a day, and conceded, “I’m not in the best shape, but hey!
how demanding is an audit, really?” (And,
Hal would add, his wife’s a great cook.)
Every year at his annual checkup, Hal’s
doctor reminded him that he needed to lose
a few pounds. And every year, Hal brushed
Then one Monday morning, after Hal finished shaving, he dropped to his knees on
the bathroom floor clutching his chest.
Hal was having a heart attack.
His wife called 911 and an ambulance
rushed him to the hospital. Within an hour
of his arrival in the emergency room, a team
of surgeons was hunched over Hal, performing a triple bypass.
When Hal woke up, his wife and three children were at his bedside, looking bleary-eyed
That did it. Seeing his family’s deep concern and love for him, Hal decided on the
spot that he was going to start taking better
care of himself. With the help of his doctor
and his wife, he stopped smoking, started
eating right, and began going to the gym.
Hal was a model patient.
For about a year.
Eventually, unhealthy habits began sneaking back into Hal’s life. More red meat. Fewer
trips to the gym. A couple of cigarettes at
Hal is not unusual. In fact, according to Dr.
Edward Miller, dean of the medical school
and CEO of Johns Hopkins University: “If you
look at people after coronary-artery bypass
grafting, two years later, 90 percent of them
have not changed their lifestyle.”
Making change stick
can be difficult, even
when it’s a matter
of life or death
BY REBECCA RYAN
Rebecca Ryan is a consultant and regular
Accounting Tomorrow contributor who helps
firms attract, develop and keep their top
talent. Reach her at rr@nextgenerationcon-
sulting.com or (888) 922-9596 ext. 702.
ACCOUNTING’S HEART ATTACK
The Great Recession was to public accounting what Hal’s heart attack was to him: a huge
wake-up call. Like Hal, many firms weren’t
behaving in the most healthy, sustainable
ways. Then, when the recession hit, firms
had to drastically change their behaviors. I
saw three approaches:
1. Firms played defense by laying off staff,
taking markdowns on fees, and cutting overhead costs.
2. Firms went on the offensive, creating intense marketing and business development
3. Firms used a hybrid approach, playing
offense and defense simultaneously — for
instance, agreeing to a smaller fee from a key
client in exchange for a binding multi-year
The results have been real. Firms that took
the Great Recession seriously and made the
changes required to survive are not only still
in business — many are running more profitably than they ever have.
The big-dollar question is: Will the changes
It depends on three questions, all centered
around your people. As John Kotter, a Harvard Business School professor who studies organizations in the midst of upheaval,
says, “The central issue is never strategy,
structure, culture or systems. The core of the
matter is always about changing the behavior
THREE QUESTIONS FOR YOUR FIRM
To determine whether your firm will be able
to maintain better business habits, ask yourself these three questions:
1. How do we frame the firm’s future?
Framing is a critical concept. When we
“frame” an issue in a certain way, we give it
context and assign importance to it.
In my first five months with Accounting
Today, I’ve discovered a trend among
many accounting professionals.
It’s not earth-shattering, but for someone with a network of “creative-type”
friends whose tax days culminate in a pile
of W-2s from various bars and receipts for
items such as tubs of apple sauce and a
kiddie pool (to be presented in tandem),
my personal mental connection between
number-crunchers and artists was limited
to those few months of the year when
H&R Block would start replacing Grass-roots Tavern as the popular check-in on
mobile location app FourSquare.
I underestimated the deeper connection between number dexterity and
creativity, that aspirational symmetry
between left and right brain function.
As I started speaking with Accounting
Today contributors, Accounting Tomorrow bloggers, and accountants, this
manifested in the discussion of various
extra-cubicle activities, hobbies and
People are inquisitive about my writing
career, only to share stories about their
own. I’ve seen creativity in viral videos,
like those from the Pennsylvania Institute
of CPAs humorously referencing classic
movies. At my first conference for the
magazine, those of us in attendance were
treated to a CPA’s stand-up comedy set
during cocktail hour.
As someone who cheered when my
college advisor told me I would never
have to venture near a math lecture hall
to attain my journalism degree, I’m constantly impressed with people who easily
juggle data analysis and a turn of phrase,
stroke of paintbrush or punch of the line.
I would love to hear more about the
pursuits of Accounting
Tomorrow readers outside of the office. E-mail us your videos,
and we will
Jarred fruit purees optional.
— Danielle Lee