[IMGCAP(1)]How many times has your CPA firm implemented a process or technology change only to find out later that just a fraction of the firm is following the new process or leveraging all the features of the technology solution? If you answered something along the lines of “all the time,” don’t worry. You are not alone.
Obtaining buy-in for process and technology improvements within accounting firms is a concern I hear every week when I’m speaking with firms across the country. Every firm has examples of good ideas failing to produce the desired results because they failed to get buy-in from enough of their team. Not only is this frustrating for the professionals who spent considerable time on the front end to improve the process, but it damages the overall culture of the firm.
Over time, firms can become “immune” to process changes. Once a firm develops a culture that is immune to change, any attempt to create lasting, positive change, is met with indifference and a quick reversion to the old way of doing things. And a culture of aversion to change can be devastating to your firm, devastating to the growth of your team, and devastating to client service and value.
This is why it’s critical to spend time ahead of process and technology improvements to clearly define a roll-out, implementation and buy-in strategy. For results-oriented management teams, buy-in cannot be an afterthought. It has to drive everything you do when you’re working to make improvements and changes in technology and processes.
The following three strategies will help you improve buy-in for process and technology changes, and ultimately may make the difference between success and failure:
1) Use the Lean Six Sigma “DMAIC” (Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, Control) model as the framework to your improvement project. By defining and agreeing to objectives with a team of your professionals on the front end, then measuring and analyzing your current state and opportunities for improvement, you can build the case for change before you implement. Change introduced and demanded by your professionals will be better received than change pushed down from the top without consultation.
2) Focus on the message of client value. Your team should be asking the question “How does this contribute to increased client value?” consistently during the process or technology improvement project. Without this framework, you may be making unnecessary changes that others can’t see as helping client service and therefore are less likely to get on board.
3) Focus on the explanations of “why” rather than simply stating the “what.” If you are following the first two steps above, then answering the “why” questions should be easy. Before you make a change that requires a change in behaviors or habits, professionals need to understand and agree with why the change is needed. Failure to explain why change is needed, and how it will improve the work environment and client service, will cause the message to fall on deaf ears. And there goes your buy-in and any opportunity to achieve the results you desire.
The good news is that previous struggles don’t have to foretell future failures. Just because you’ve struggled in the past with getting your firm to buy into changes doesn’t mean you’re destined to always struggle with change. Changing your approach to introducing and implementing change can make the difference between repeating the missteps of the past and introducing change that will transform your productivity and client service.
Dustin Hostetler is the founder of Flowtivity. He manages the Lean4CPAs practice and works closely with CPA firms on process improvement initiatives. As a Lean Six Sigma Master Black Belt with extensive experience working inside a large regional CPA firm, he has taken proven Lean techniques and tailored them to bring value to public accounting firms.