The 3 keys to navigating change in your accounting firm

Carl ReaderChairman of Business Advisory, d&t

Change: you either love it or hate it.

Some of us relish the opportunity to learn new skills and explore the unknown, but others prefer to stick to their tried-and-tested ways of working. Nowadays, however, change is inevitable. 

Accounting technology is being reinvented at a rate of knots. The past decade alone has seen the cloud, big data, and SaaS come to dominate the industry—and firms that don’t keep up will quickly fall behind the competition. 

So how can your firm navigate change painlessly? How can you gain team-wide buy-in and ensure that you derive as much value as possible from your change projects? 

This article delves into how you can be a catalyst for change within your firm. It explores the three essential aspects of change management before discussing how to overcome the most common pitfalls that firms generally encounter.

The 3 essential aspects of change management

Change management isn’t as scary as it might seem. In fact, most successful change management boils down to three core steps:

1. Identification of the end-goal

As Seneca put it, “If a man knows not to which port he sails, no wind is favourable.” This quote obviously applies to far more than sailing alone. When embarking on a large change project, the first thing to do is nail down the end-goal. You need to decide where you’re going before you work out how to get there. 

To help you do this, start by answering the following questions:

  • What’s wrong with our current approach?

  • Where could we add more value to our clients’ businesses?

  • What do we spend too long doing?

  • How could we make our lives easier?

These answers will give you a blueprint for the type of firm that you want to become. By clearly outlining what you want out of a change project, you can then begin to work backwards: identifying which solutions are needed and how you’re going to work to achieve your ultimate end goal.

2. Gain team-wide buy-in

You can’t embark on large-scale change projects without your team’s support. In fact, they’ll ultimately be the single largest make-or-break factor when it comes to determining if your project will be a success.

If you try to pull the rug out from under their feet without consulting them first, don’t be surprised if they’re less than enthusiastic about your all-singing, all-dancing new solution.

On the other hand, if you do gain their buy-in right from the get-go, then you’ll all work together to make your change project a success. You’ll likely face some objections from certain colleagues—but we’ll dive into how to deal with this in more detail later on. 

3. Communication

Communication is the lynchpin that’s at the heart of all effective change projects. You have to communicate what’s wrong with your current approach, what you’d like your firm to look like in an ideal world, and why your proposed solution is the answer. 

Internally, you have to communicate with your colleagues to ensure buy-in and their ongoing commitment/ support. Externally, you’ll have to communicate with clients: reassuring them that any minor disruption will be worth it in the long run. 

How to overcome the most common pitfalls of introducing change  

No change project is without its hiccups. If you do encounter a hurdle, don’t worry—you’re far from alone.

For instance, perhaps you face resistance from your team at some stage during the project. You thought you’d convinced them of the value of the new way of working, but halfway through, they seem tired of the endless change and try to convince you to just pack it in and return to the old ways of doing things. 

Likewise, you might also encounter significant resistance from clients. This is arguably even more difficult to overcome—after all, there’s money on the line. Delayed projects and unhappy clients are enough to convince even the most ardent change enthusiast that it’s just not worth it.

But that’s not true.

Resist the temptation to turn back to shore and give up. So long as you genuinely believe that the change project will be worth it in the long run, carry on. This doesn’t mean that you should blindly ignore your colleagues’ and clients’ concerns—instead, it means you need to double down on your communication efforts. 

Internally, reiterate how valuable your colleagues’ efforts have been—and will continue to be—in seeing the project over the line. 

Externally, ask clients for their forgiveness if their work has been impacted and perhaps even consider offering a small discount as a token of your gratitude. 

But for both clients and colleagues, double down on why you’re conducting this project. Paint a vivid picture of what life was like before (highlighting common pain points) and explain how much better it’ll be once you’ve finally crossed the finish line. 

It’s worth highlighting that firms often encounter issues when they try to complete a change project on their own. They’re convinced that their own expertise is all they need without fully understanding the scope of the change. Sure, they’re probably all Excel whizzes, but that doesn’t mean they can configure multiple integrations and seamlessly transfer all existing data from disparate sources into one easy-to-view place.  

If firms are introducing a new tool, for example, they should work hand-in-hand with their vendors’ onboarding teams. They’ve seen it all before—the challenges, hurdles, and hiccups. If something does go wrong, they’ll likely have a solution ready to go. It’s in their interest to ensure that your firm quickly gets up-to-speed with the tool, so they’ll do their utmost to help you successfully do this. 

Don’t go it alone. Seek out their expertise to make your change project easier and increase the likelihood of success. 

Go beyond the tip of the iceberg

Change is a huge topic—and this article has barely scratched the surface. To dive into the details of how accounting firms can successfully implement change projects, join me as I discuss the what, why, and how of change management with a host of experts.

Don’t miss out. 

Carl Reader
Chairman of Business Advisory, d&t

Carl Reader is chairman at multi-award winning firm d&t and Head of Accounting (EMEA) at Practice Ignition. Carl serves as Chair of the Practitioner Panel at ACCA, and is the author of BOSS IT. Carl is widely recognised as a thought leader in the accounting profession, speaking globally to accountancy audiences about a range of topics.

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