Voices

Boomer’s Blueprint: Seek transformation, accept change

Dan Sullivan, founder of The Strategic Coach, says, “All progress starts with the truth.” I believe this statement to be proven, especially in the accounting profession. Progress requires change and transformation. People often use the words interchangeably, but there are distinct differences between change and transformation.

Change tends to fix things of the past, while transformation defines and creates an attractive future. As Daniel Burrus writes in “The Anticipatory Organization,” sometimes change simply isn’t enough. Transformation was once viewed as inspirational, and still is to a certain segment of the population. Others associate transformation with disruptive technology, cost-cutting and loss of jobs. This certainly can be the case, but will you be better off procrastinating and ignoring the truth or starting the transformation journey today? I believe transformation is a journey that requires change and learning new skills to remain relevant.

We refer to this as upskilling. There are several ways to gain new relevant skills, and both employees and employers realize the importance of upskilling. Traditional education systems typically don’t meet the needs for upskilling. Value is created through leadership, relationships and creativity. Thinking may be the most critical skill, and how you think is different with regard to transformation and change. Transformation requires exponential thinking, while incremental thinking is normally associated with change. The difference is huge … 10 percent versus 10X. You tend to think local for change and global for transformation.

Change may seem future-oriented, but it is firmly embedded in the past. Change tries to produce a better version of what already exists. Links to the past invariably are associated with corporate communications like:

  • We need to respond faster — work harder.
  • Management must be more agile.
  • We need more social media presence.

These statements are all based upon reference points in the past.

In contrast, transformation designs new fields and services requiring new or different skills. In accounting, some of the more critical skills for the future are technology, data analytics, security, project management, marketing, sales and strategic planning. These skills allow firms to operate in less contested markets with fewer regulations and are perceived by the clients to add more value than current compliance services. In addition to changes in skill sets, transformation also requires significant changes in mindsets and toolsets. In fact, some of the toolsets are the disrupters (e.g., robotics, machine learning, networks and sensors, and blockchain).

The questions asked are also much different. In transformation, the questions are, “What is possible, will this produce exponential results, and how can we adapt?” Comments and questions associated with change are generally, “When will this end, what does this mean for me, and not another change now.”

Transformation is based on assertions through current commitments. These commitments require courage, capabilities and confidence. Unfortunately, this is the order of the four “C”s. Most people would prefer the order be reversed, but transformation does not work that way. It starts with a commitment and you can commit today. Courage, capabilities and confidence are gained throughout the journey. Unfortunately, transformation is not an event or driven by a checklist. Mindsets will determine your assertions and commitments. Some questions to consider:

1. Do you want to be a game-changer or stay where you are, knowing commoditization is happening at an increasing pace?

2. Are you a life-long learner?

3. Do you want to learn and change faster than the competition?

4. Do you wish to be a member of a collaborative team?

5. Are you willing to package and price your services differently?

6. Do you wish to grow?

7. Do you want to leverage cloud-based technology?

If you answered “yes” to the majority of the questions, you are positioned to accelerate the transformation process by developing a vision, plan and unique-ability team to execute. Tackling these questions as a firm will allow you to explore possibilities and focus on priorities. The hidden value comes from the conversations and ideas that occur during the planning process where people feel safe, but uncomfortable with an unknown future. Firm survival depends upon your ability to transform. Now is the time to define your game and related story. Committing to the transformation process today is the first step.

In practice, transformation and change is not an either/or game. Too often, firms get caught up focusing on change linked to old processes, systems and services when they should be clear about what they are transforming. A clear vision and strategic plan will retain and attract quality clients and employees. Both are important to your ability to sustain success and remain future-ready.