Why they need to, and some lessons from Weight Watchers

As a consultant to the accounting profession, I have often struggled with this question. Consultants diagnose a firm, provide some suggestions for change, the partners seem to accept those suggestions and then not much happens. This is as frustrating for the firm as the consultant.

However, if we look back over our lives, we realize that we are not the person today that we once were. New experiences change us, we learn new skills, we grow in wisdom and patience, and sometimes we change because of a life-changing event in our lives - a death of a loved one, a serious accident, or a change in our health.

We can draw two conclusions from this. One is that change comes slowly, and the second is that we tend to change when a catastrophic event happens in our lives. One would think that there must be other ways to implement change.

David Maister, in Strategy and the Fat Smoker, notes that there are two elements needed in order for us to change. The first is a willingness to do it. The second is determination. But alas, we know the path to Hell is paved with good intentions.

There are a multitude of platitudes about change. But unless we change, we don't grow, and the skills that got us to where we are won't get us to the next level. None of us can achieve more unless we become more. If I fail to change, I will not produce different or better results, but only the same thing. This is extremely dangerous because the world around us - including our clients, our employees, the marketplace - continues to change.

Take a quick acid test. What do you know today that you did not know five years ago? Ten years ago? If your list is short, you haven't changed much. If your list is long, congratulations! The longer the list, the better.

IS THERE A CHANGE PROCESS?

The quick answer to the question is yes. The process is used by many firms in different industries. Weight Watchers is perhaps one of the best companies that have developed a change process for those who want to lose weight. Let's see what we can learn from its process.

1. The organization must have a plan/process for its people to follow. It cannot be left solely to the individuals to create their own processes. Weight Watchers makes its money by getting dieters to follow its plan. Accounting firms will also make money if they get their partners and employees to embrace a culture of change.

2. Partners and employees need to be aligned with the change policy. Firms are made up of individuals, and those individuals must want to achieve the firm's vision and plan. Too often, partners and even employees become too comfortable with themselves and have no desire to change and no determination or willingness.

3. Change requires the firm and the individual to make investments. As mentioned in No. 1 above, the firm must create a process for people to follow. The process that I often recommend is the development of competency tables for every position in the firm. Knowledge workers yearn for new skills so that they can grow. They want to know what it takes to get to the next level in the firm - what new skills will they have to develop?

4. As with Weight Watchers, there must be a personal development plan and a personal commitment to its outcome. We cannot force someone to follow the change plan; they must want to do it. We can encourage them and even provide them rewards, but they must have the discipline to follow the plan. We must quit babysitting people who do not want what the firm wants.

5. Teaching and learning are critical. If you join Weight Watchers, it educates you on good eating habits and how many "points" a meal contains, and it makes you aware of what you did not know before entering the program. We must do the same thing with our people. Continual learning is key in today's world. Firms are beginning to have book clubs for their employees in addition to the regular continuing professional education classes. Coaching and mentoring is about helping people in the firm grow, not just having lunch once a quarter.

6. There is accountability in the Weight Watchers program. Every week, people in the program need to weigh in. We need to create the same type of accountability programs in our firms. A partner/employee accountability model is one way of doing this.

7. Finally, change is something that we do every day, not just at the end of the year. It may be as little as spending five minutes a day reading or listening to an audio program, or asking a client or partner some questions about the business.

Each day, you should ask yourself two questions. At the beginning of the day, ask: What do I need to learn today so I can do my job better tomorrow? Then, at the end of the day, ask yourself this question: What did I learn today that I can use tomorrow?

August Aquila is a speaker, author and consultant to the accounting profession. Reach him at (952) 930-1295.

(c) 2009 Accounting Today and SourceMedia, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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