More than once, as I leafed through the paperback-sized agenda of the recent American Institute of CPAs' Practitioners Symposium and TECH+ Conference, and the Association for Accounting Marketing Summit, which were all held together in Las Vegas in mid-June, I was struck by the sheer breadth and number of sessions on offer -- which is also a good proxy for how many ideas an attendee could be exposed to.
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Even if they were only modestly diligent, they could easily bring back as many as 10 game-changing initiatives to propose to their firms to make them more efficient and more profitable, help them recruit and retain the most talented staff, vastly improve their marketing and business development, get them running on the latest technology, and much more. All the attendees had to do was pay attention and take notes, then go home and get their firm to successfully adopt all these new ideas.
Simple, right? The AICPA even made the note-taking easy, providing thumb drives and downloading stations so attendees could take all the session materials home, and allowing them to access audio recordings online of the actual sessions themselves.
The problem is, the institute can't come to your firm and show you how to implement the new business development pipeline system that caught your eye. Or establish the new tax quality control system. Or install the new workflow system. Or develop that new social media-based marketing program.
You have to be able to do those things for yourself. And since you're probably going to have to implement each of the major initiatives mentioned in the paragraph above -- plus two or three dozen others -- over the next decade, the first task you should assign yourself, the very first initiative you should pursue, is to figure out how to get good at that kind of thing. You need to develop both your own skills and your firm's skills at successfully adopting and enacting new ideas.
This is the science and art of change management, and while there wasn't a session specifically on it at the conference (or at least, not one that I could find in the massive session schedule), it was still on the agenda, not least as a constant leitmotif of institute president and chief executive Barry Melancon. In his keynote address on the state of the profession, at a town hall with attendees from small firms, at an informal dinner Q&A -- the phrase "change management" was never far from his lips, a refrain he applied to almost every major issue he discussed, from new regulations and new demographic trends, to new technologies and firm structures. "This is all," he'd say, "part of the change management we're all going to need to be involved in."
It was a valuable, high-level reminder that for the profession and the firms its members work in to be successful in the long term, they're all going to have to become very good at handling a constant barrage of change -- and at initiating and seeing through changes of their own.
Now, even if I knew the exact details of a repeatable, reliable approach to change management (and I don't), there isn't space here to do more than outline it: It would involve careful selection of the change to be managed, cultivation of staff and partner buy-in, using internal champions, and developing success metrics and strong-but-flexible timetables with periodic assessments built in. It would consider pilot programs in individual departments or offices, and an overall awareness of just how much change you're requiring of your staff, and how well they're handling it.
That may all sound daunting, but it's no more daunting that taking Congress' annual wholesale re-arrangement of the Tax Code in stride, or figuring out how to apply the latest converged accounting standards, and accountants have been doing that for years. Just figure out how, and apply it to the next new initiative that comes your way.
Then repeat as necessary.