[IMGCAP(1)]Legendary Rock & Roll Hall of Famer David Bowie released “Changes” in 1972. Decades later it became the unofficial song for many businesses kicking off a change campaign for their company. What do a business change campaign and the song “Changes” have in common?

Well…they both sound nice. Even though “Changes” is one of Bowie’s most requested songs when he performs in concert and one that most people associate with him, it never sold well commercially. Go figure. Businesses often talk about change but in so many cases have never executed change. Go figure.

Change is difficult. There is no question about it. It’s hard for an individual to try to make their own self-improvements. And it’s hard for a firm to try to change and create more new business opportunities. How did Bowie make change sound so easy?

Change should not be an agenda item at the partners’ yearly retreat. It should be discussed throughout the year, to eternity and beyond. (Sorry, Buzz Lightyear.) By the way…what is meant by change? A cultural change? Change management? Leadership change? Motivational change? Attitude change? Relationship change? All of the above?

Since the accounting world from its genesis has been made up of codes, rules, regulations, laws and statutes, that is not and never will be the issue. Even with David Bowie’s help, the foundation for accountants ain’t a changing! Perhaps what needs to change is how firms position themselves in their markets, how they deliver their services, how they think about growth, how they develop their professional staff and become more competitive, how their employees execute change, and how well the firm adapts to changing market conditions. Firms are not going to change a market, but a market will always change a firm. However, provincial-thinking firms will believe that they can change a market and they don’t need to change. One day we will see that firm next to a pile of pink While You Were Out pads.

To make this change thing a reality, a firm should always strive to do things differently to improve its business and employees. Don’t settle for the status quo. Making change a part of the DNA and fiber of a business should be a goal.

In talking with people who are light years ahead of me in intelligence, there are several points to change that keep returning to the conversations about change where ironically these points don’t change:

1. Timetable: Forever…plus a few days. Bad habits cannot be changed overnight. In the accounting world, if you follow the model or process to complete a financial picture of a company, you will get an answer. A positive or negative answer, but still an answer. A firm can plan for change. Follow it. Execute it. But there is no guarantee the firm will achieve change or that answer.

2. Catalyst: Who is going to drive the bus of change? They need to do this with passion. They may receive fewer invitations from their colleagues for lunch because most people don’t like to change, and this change agent is threatening people about the way they have done things in the past. But with change, a personal improvement can occur too. Ownership of change is needed by all but may be driven by one and not by a group. Do you see any statues of committees in parks, or do you only see statues of individuals?  

3. It’s hard: Change is very hard and an organization must be committed. Otherwise, it shouldn’t waste its time. An organization can’t say, “We are going to change,” wink an eye, and then go on as always.

4. Monitor: Once an effort to change has been launched, it needs to be cared for and looked after constantly. Don’t look at change as a quick-fix solution. It’s not. This is the new way of doing things for the betterment of the individuals in a firm and the firm itself. You’ll need to change the change too as time progresses, and that’s a good thing. Learn from the change and change the change to make it better.

5. Interference: If you let the wildness of your day prevent you from carrying out the goals of changing your firm, you are doomed. If you stop executing change between January 1st and April 15th, you will lose. If you think the summertime is a bad time to institute the goals of change, you might as well take the whole year off. The old way of doing things will not bring you to the future.

6. Fear of the unknown: It’s human nature to view change as the unknown, and all the bad stuff it brings. Why not view change for all the unknown potentially good things it can bring? 

7. Mindset: Convert people to think differently.

8. Ego: “I’m doing a good job. I don’t need to change.” Good luck with your colleagues who tell you that.

If you haven’t guessed it yet through my cryptic writing, change comes as a result of our own individual effort. We combine our own efforts and the efforts of others to produce change in our business. Change is not handed to us in a neat package. We don’t add water and, poof, change is produced. It is our responsibility to change. There is not one definition. It’s not on the other person’s plate. None of us wants to fail, but there is risk in change. Or what is the risk if you don’t change? How a firm got to their current level is one thing. How they reach their next level will be something else, with change a necessary part of it.   

Change may be equated to going from the sunlight into a dark room. At first, you can’t see at all, and you stumble around the room. But after a short time, your eyes adjust to the darkness and you can maneuver around the room successfully.

Change is hard, but improvement and success are harder without change.

Nicholas D. Keseric Jr. is the director of practice growth with Mulcahy, Pauritsch, Salvador & Co, a Chicago-area middle-market CPA firm, and a partner with MPS Capital Advisors-Mergers & Acquisitions.

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