Change is scary. There's no doubt about it. I often tell my clients that whenever I am facing a major change, I feel like I am at the edge of a diving board and just can't jump into the water.I guess I'm no different than any of you when it comes to change. Sometimes I have been forced into it, and other times I have led it.

I want to share with you a dozen practical things that you can do when you find yourself faced with a major change in your firm.

1. Have a grand plan. What are you trying to achieve with the change you are recommending, and where will it take the firm? If you don't have clarity about the grand vision, you won't be able to sell the idea to anyone else.

2. Present the plan concept. It's best to present your grand plan as a concept and not an accomplished fact. Put it out as a "straw dog" and see what the reaction is.

3. Get others involved. If you are the only one in your firm who is pushing for the change, you might as well forget about it. When others get involved, they also get committed. They provide you with feedback so that you can develop the best steps in the change process.

4. Sell the idea one partner at a time. The best way to get buy-in is to talk with each partner one on one in order to understand their fears and concerns, and ultimately to get their buy-in.

5. Show others how the new change compares to the existing situation. Even if you don't have everything laid out, it is important to get others in the firm to visualize what the new system or environment may look like. Paint a picture for them.

6. Don't have hallway conversations. Make sure that all conversations about the change project stay within the partners' meetings. This is the only place where open discussions should take place. Hallway or water cooler conversations only mean that your partners are not expressing their real feelings during the meetings.

7. Protect what people have. The biggest fear when it comes to change is that people believe that they are going to lose something - power, control, compensation, status, etc. It doesn't always have to be that way. Try to protect what your firm's people already have or, if you have to take it away, do it over time.

8. Make needed adjustments. Be flexible in moving forward. As you get feedback from your people, it's important to make adjustments to your plan. Don't get blinded by your end game.

9. Make incremental changes. No matter what you are doing, do it in small steps. Changing anything, from partner compensation to governance, at too great a pace will only cause more push-back from the partners.

10. Keep your eye on the prize. It's easy to lose focus. Remember your grand plan and where you want to take the firm.

11. Hold people accountable. Change requires people to do things differently, and this includes you. Make sure that everyone does what they say they are going to do.

12. Get help. Sometimes it helps to bring in an outside advisor to help implement the change, especially when you are considering succession or compensation issues. Find someone who has done it before and can help you work through all of the issues.

August Aquila helps CPA firm leaders develop and implement succession, compensation, strategic and merger plans. Reach him at (952) 930-1295 or aaquila@aquilaadvisors.com.

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