Can Partners Change?

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IMGCAP(1)]As a consultant to the accounting profession, I have often struggledwith this question. Consultants diagnose a firm, provide somesuggestions for change, the partners seem to accept those suggestionsand then not much happens. This is as frustrating for the firm as theconsultant.

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

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

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

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

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


The quick answer to the question is yes. The process isused by many firms in different industries. Weight Watchers is perhapsone of the best companies that have developed a change process forthose who want to lose weight. Let's see what we can learn from itsprocess.

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

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

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

4. As with Weight Watchers, there must be a personaldevelopment plan and a personal commitment to its outcome. We cannotforce someone to follow the change plan; they must want to do it. Wecan encourage them and even provide them rewards, but they must havethe discipline to follow the plan. We must quit babysitting people whodo not want what the firm wants.

5. Teaching and learning are critical. If you join WeightWatchers, it educates you on good eating habits and how many "points" ameal contains, and it makes you aware of what you did not know beforeentering the program. We must do the same thing with our people.Continual learning is key in today's world. Firms are beginning to havebook clubs for their employees in addition to the regular continuingprofessional education classes. Coaching and mentoring is about helpingpeople 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 createthe same type of accountability programs in our firms. Apartner/employee accountability model is one way of doing this.

7. Finally, change is something that we do every day, notjust at the end of the year. It may be as little as spending fiveminutes a day reading or listening to an audio program, or asking aclient or partner some questions about the business.

Each day, you should ask yourself two questions. At thebeginning of the day, ask: What do I need to learn today so I can do myjob better tomorrow? Then, at the end of the day, ask yourself thisquestion: 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.

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