It's been 2,500 years since Heraclitus of Ephesus told us that, "The only constant in life is change," but up until, oh, say, the end of the 20th century, the phrase still retained a certain revelatory impact, the power to make you metaphorically (and sometimes, if cocktails were involved, literally) take your chin in hand and ponder the ramifications.
Nowadays, though, it seems too obvious to even mention (though I just did). Change has become an anywhere, anytime kind of thing, and this is true in accounting as much as it is in any other part of the modern world.
If proof of this were needed, it was amply provided by a recent summit of technology vendors, cloud developers, IT gurus, firm experts and others gathered in New York by the American Institute of CPAs and its Web arm, CPA2Biz, to talk about the cloud in particular and the future of technology in accounting in general. Attendees at the two-day meeting highlighted a long list of exciting tools and solutions that are coming your way, but they also made no secret of the fact that all these tools will require implementation, and training, and learning new ways to work. Change management was on everyone's mind, and everyone's lips, and even on the agenda -- representatives from three firms of different sizes discussed how they choose which new initiatives to implement, and how they go about it.
From the way they talked, it's a full-time job -- and that's just for technology, for the CRM systems and audit tools, the tax prep and security systems, the time & billing and practice management solutions, and the digital workflow and paperless regimes. It doesn't even begin to address the changes sweeping accounting firms in partner compensation and firm governance, career structure and diversity, marketing, social media, client development, billing and pricing, recruiting and retention, administration, and a dozen other areas.
And change is not just constant, it's constantly increasing.
Taken separately, the change in all these different aspects of the modern accounting practice can be overwhelming. How can you handle all this new technology while you're trying to create a flex-time work structure and learn how to tweet? That's why the first trick in facing all of these individual changes is to understand that they're all aspects of the same thing: the growth and development your firm will have to undergo to remain competitive and, hopefully, grow stronger. Create a "Change Committee" to come up with a unified list of the changes your firm is contemplating, and to integrate and prioritize them. You may have an executive committee or a strategy group that does something similar already -- and you'll always want to make sure that your changes are tied into your strategy -- but it's valuable to consider all of your different changes as changes, not just as unrelated initiatives in technology, or HR, or marketing. The appetite for change in any organization is limited, but it can be increased with careful attention.
Once you've identified the changes you want, you can start getting good at making them happen. Change management is a skill you can develop, and one that you can apply in all areas of the firm. Building a strong change management process in your firm will make it easier for you not just to survive the unprecedented waves of change coming your way, but to make the most of them.
As change management represents a major challenge for firms of all sizes, we've kicked off this issue with a cover story that serves as a sort of introduction to the topic, but we'll be returning to it again in future issues. Because just as it's true that change is the only constant, the firms that master change will constantly succeed.
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