Building a 'cherished' practice with the cloud

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In the accounting industry, speculation on how technologies like AI, machine learning and the cloudb will affect humans’ involvement in the profession abounds. But ultimately, the human side of accounting is something that can never be replaced by technology — only enhanced. Technology will not only automate many aspects of data entry but also enable accountants to ultimately become what I call “the cherished advisor” — rather than merely a trusted advisor — for their clients’ businesses.

I grew up hearing stories about my grandfather’s CPA practice, which he began in the 1930s with the purpose of positively impacting the business owners in his immigrant neighborhood in St. Paul, Minn. He was the cherished advisor of his day, providing strategic guidance to business owners on financial decisions. Their relationships went way beyond figures and numbers. They asked questions, and he offered advice and insight, because they were a team working together to create better lives for themselves.

By becoming a cherished advisor, you will learn how to create an experience for your clients that they have not had before with other accounting professionals. You become an integral part of the real-time decision-making process; services are delivered proactively, rather than reactively; and you understand both the operational and financial sides of the business. If we use cloud technology to break down walls between accountants and clients instead of building new ones, we can get back to the cherished advisor status previously associated with our profession.

At many of the industry events that I speak at, the discussion often arises about people in a practice who are either resistant to change or wholeheartedly embrace it. It’s the people who are resistant to change who hold back progress and, as a result, the whole industry is slow to advance, which in turn disappoints our clients that want these technological advances in their business lives.

Here are some things to consider in order to keep moving the needle forward for your practice’s cloud adoption.

Appoint a champion

Make sure there is a staff member who is dedicated to getting things done and moving things forward. For example, if you want to set a practice-wide technology strategy, you should have a dedicated person implementing the technology and ensuring that all parts of the business have their loose ends tied up and are ready to transition to the cloud.

The appointed champion should also be able to help with sending a consistent message to staff and clearly state the rationale for the change and how it will benefit them. Getting staff on board is critical and having someone who can clearly communicate the transition progress will help minimize confusion among employees.

Test and learn

Instilling a test and learn culture in your practice is critical for fostering growth and innovation. If a practice has a culture where employees are encouraged to test something and are supported to keep trying even if it fails, you are far more likely to create diverse and innovative solutions. Instead of branding people for their failures, reward them for trying something new. Having a culture that promotes adopting new methods and techniques will also mean that employees are more flexible in their thinking and more open to change.

Have the compensation conversation

Employees can be reluctant to embrace innovation because they’re afraid how they’ll be affected. Before any real change happens, it’s important to approach the topic of how each partner’s book of business will be impacted, because often, they’re worried about how they will be compensated and how future retirement will happen. We need to stop thinking of firms as a corporation and instead think of each partner’s book of business. Putting in play a compensation program that looks after both the partners and the company will be a big step towards allaying fears of change.

Ultimately, when it comes to cloud adoption, it’s not technology that is the greatest challenge but we often get in our own way. For many, change is unwelcome, so it’s important that strategies are implemented to keep your practice moving forward and evolving and bring everyone along on the journey with you. Make sure you appoint a champion to help guide the transition process and communicate the rationale behind the change. Finally, creating a culture that promotes change and innovation is fundamental in building a company poised for sustainable growth.

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