Everyone has heard these sayings: "Business is no longer as usual." "If you keep on doing what you are currently doing, we will continue to get the same results." "What got you to where you are today is no guarantee that it will take you to where you want to be tomorrow."While we know intellectually what these three adages mean, most of us find it extremely difficult, if not impossible, to implement the necessary changes.
The choice that we all face is simple - we either change or we stagnate. The reason why we must change is that our environment is constantly changing - new technologies, different and smarter clients, and new tax and auditing regulations.
Changes like these take place no matter what we think or do.
Imagine running a practice today if you had to operate without computers, or if you had no Web site or e-mail. Or what if you had to process tax returns by hand, or use columnar pads instead of software like Excel or QuickBooks?
On a personal level, think about your professional skills and how they have changed over the years. What can you do today that you could not do five or 10 years ago? The longer the list, the more valuable you have become to your clients.
Even if you are not a positional leader in a firm, you still must be a catalyst for change. I have found that most partners resist change for the following three reasons.
First, it breaks a routine. Client A has been with the firm for 10 years, and you always conduct the same year-end planning meeting. Doing something different, innovative and new for this client would disrupt your routine. Breaking the routine is inconvenient and may even be intimidating for some. If this describes you, your flexibility and risk tolerance is low.
Second, change is frightening. We pretty much know what we can expect if we hold the same type of meeting with the client year after year. While we may know what we want from the meeting, we really don't know what the client needs or expects. This behavior gives you comfort, since your thinking is very introspective. But what about the client? When does he come into the equation?
Third, change not only moves us from our comfort level, it also humbles us. Change makes us realize what we know and don't know. Confucius said, "It is a wise man who knows what he knows and knows what he doesn't know."
7 ways to prepare for change
I once had a managing partner tell me that he would rather embrace a barracuda than change. Another managing partner changed things so often that it became a joke. Neither one of these managing partners were efficient in leading their practices in growth and profitability.
There are ways to make change easier for everyone in your organization. When implementing a new program or trying to change a long-term belief in the firm, remember the following.
1. Explain the change. Explain what you are trying to accomplish and why you think it is important for the firm. Make sure that you have answers to all the possible questions. This will force you to really think through what the change means. You won't get much support if you answer questions with, "I haven't thought about that yet."
2. Discuss new opportunities. Change needs to be viewed in the context of new opportunities. It is critical for the leader to feel secure with the changes - otherwise, her insecurity will surely be felt throughout the firm.
3. Identify your support group. There are usually a small number of people in a firm who will support any change initiative. Make sure you know who they are. They may be other partners, but it is important to look throughout your ranks - managers, administrative people, etc. Supporting messages from them may mean more to the staff than those coming from the top of the firm.
4. Understand other points of view. The more you can put yourself in someone else's shoes, the better you will be able to communicate with them. This does not mean you must compromise. Understanding another's perspective may lead to a totally new option to pursue.
5. Address concerns. When there is change, the first thing that enters everyone's mind is, "What does it mean to me?" If you don't address this question on an individual level, people will make up their own answer.
6. Know that there will be resistance. You will never have 100 percent of the firm behind a new program. There will always be an anti-change contingent. These are the naysayers and the gossipmongers. Getting some of them involved may help, but you need to minimize the impact these people can have on your firm. Partners who don't agree ultimately have two options: Stay out of the way or move on. This may be draconian, but it may be the only way to be successful in your new initiative.
7. No involvement, no commitment. If you are really interested in success, make sure that you get everyone involved in the process. Otherwise, when you announce the new program, your fellow partners and staff will think that it is your program and not theirs. Make them part of the planning and implementation process, thus improving your chances of success.
Old habits are definitely hard to break. But if you paint a bright picture of the future and show your people what's in it for them, you will begin to take the first step toward implementing change in your firm.
August Aquila is the director of practice management consulting for The Growth Partnership Inc., a full-service consulting firm to the accounting profession. He is the co-author of Client at the Core (John Wiley & Sons, 2004). Reach him at aaquila@
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