Voices

Pathways to Growth: Initiate to innovate

The 19th century English clergyman William Pollard said, “Those who initiate change will have a better opportunity to manage the change that is inevitable.” Pollard’s words reflect something I’ve observed for some time: Our profession has a built-in bias toward passivity. Yet our future requires a proactive mindset in today’s fast-moving environment.

Deadlines: The dirty little secret

I initially assumed this lack of initiation was unique to a few of my clients, but soon recognized it was more widespread. As I observed and pondered, I realized it’s because our work is fundamentally deadline-driven. Our deadline muscle is so strong that a mindset of “deadlines drive actions” has seeped into our consciousness.

We are trained to jump into action in response to March, April, September or October tax deadlines, or to deadlines for corporate audits. This stimulus/response dynamic has become ingrained in how we work. We wait for the calendar to impel us to take action.

However, we are currently faced in our profession with the necessity for a range of self-fueled initiatives such as pursuing new technologies, creating innovative services, and reinventing what we do.

The conundrum is that deadlines can block our success. With a due date always in front of us, our nose is down to the grindstone rather than up to the wind. We have difficulty peering into the future where opportunities and investments await.

What’s more, deadlines provide us with convenient excuses for inaction. I have led countless sessions where we go around the table, asking team members about the status of initiatives like research and analysis of new industries or interviews in the market. All too often I hear, “Sorry. I couldn’t get to it because I was on deadline.”

The problem isn’t passive individuals. It’s the fact that we have evolved into a profession of responders who, over the years, have been reinforced in this behavior.

Future growth requires activity, with the emphasis on the root word, “act.” Our firms do not grow because we aggressively wait for the phone to ring (thanks to Sam Allred for this great one-liner). Growth is a result of futuristic, investment-oriented effort. It’s what packs the pipeline and ensures success.

Care to dance?

In order to grow into a responsive, technology-driven profession of the future, we need leaders who initiate purposeful, forward-looking activity — leaders who can identify business problems and then design solutions to address them.

Clients appreciate and expect this level of proactivity as they increasingly look to CPAs as advisors.

The ability to initiate is essential if we wish to become trusted consultants, effective rainmakers and strategic growth leaders. Without it, we are little more than compliance professionals. This is especially true in an environment where technology like bots and artificial intelligence is supplanting the human role in compliance.

This whole discussion calls to mind those goofy middle-school dances where, back in the day, the girls stood along the wall as the boys proffered tentative invitations to dance. Today women are no longer waiting on the sidelines, and initiators of both genders drive progress in all fields. Those waiting for someone to pull them onto the dance floor are likely to miss out.

What you can do

In a complex marketplace characterized by technology and competition, I recommend you start taking note. Do you see yourself waiting on the sidelines for something to happen? If so, it’s time to practice initiating.

  • Adopt an ownership responsibility mentality, with behaviors tied to results. Follow the example of U.S. President Harry S. Truman who had a sign on his desk that read, “The buck stops here.”
  • Drive initiation through calendar management.
  • Develop project-management skills, focusing on what, who and when. Communicate often with the team.
  • Train team members to avoid waiting for responses. Instead, encourage action. When you witness a colleague passively waiting for someone else to take the next step, ask, “So, what is your plan?”

Bottom line? Passivity is passé. The future belongs to those who initiate.