Driving change from the bottom up

Driving change from the bottom up

If you have anything to do with the accounting industry you’ll know that firms need to be constantly evolving or risk fading out. But what if the firm where you work isn’t showing any signs of change? What if those in charge have no discernible plans in place to keep up with industry trends?

You may take charge of your own professional learning, keenly follow the leading thinkers’ blogs and social accounts and develop your own ideas about how things could be done better in the firm, but how do you get your boss to listen and be open to change?

Here are five strategies that will help. You can employ all of these in your approach, or may find that just one or two help your argument. The starting point for any discussion with the purpose of persuasion, however, is to be well-informed and non-confrontational. Change is hard, it’s expensive, and it’s time-consuming, so you’ll want to start the conversation on the right foot.

Understand what you are up against

You may need to change your boss’ attitude before you can conceive of changing their behavior. The tricky part is that people’s attitudes tend to be affected by ingrained biases without the person realizing it.

To approach someone with an idea that might be out of their comfort zone, you’ll need to understand more about where their biases lie so as not to meet immediate resistance. You probably can’t do this from sending out an email. Have a chat and ask some questions about the situation. How does the individual perceive the current system to work? What are the key concerns about introducing a new one? This knowledge will help you to map out your rebuttal and explain how the change offers solutions to current headaches and concerns.

Rally the troops

There’s no harm in having a few co-workers back up your suggestion. Your colleagues can be a great sounding board for your ideas so you can determine whether there is great enough merit in what you are proposing, and whether you should consider any improvements. Should they also see a possible benefit in your idea, your peers may muster up some enthusiasm without too much persuasion.

With an interest in participation from your equals, the boss will see that the task of getting employees on board with your proposed change has already begun. This situation is better still if you can get peers of your boss involved—just be sure to be respectful so the end result is productive and beneficial for all.

Find the comfort zone

When you go to pitch the idea, make sure the conditions are ideal. One-on-one is probably best as people often respond quite differently when in a group. Understand when your boss is usually the most responsive and accepting—first thing Monday morning? Late on Friday afternoon? Over a coffee?

Then take time before a meeting to consider the person you are approaching and what is going to be your best strategy. Some people want to cut straight to the chase, with others the small talk may save your behind, and there could be something on their mind or in their life outside of work that could affect their openness. Be sure there is no superfluous clouding of judgement that could be avoided by waiting a day or two. Figuring out when the conditions are ideal is both respectful to your boss and may improve your chances of being properly heard.

Frame it

As one of the grinders in the firm, you might have a brilliant idea to create a smoother process for something that’s in your day-to-day. But if it’s something that is no longer part of your boss’ world, will they find it important enough for a shakeup?

Firms need to adopt a more collaborative approach to allow employees more input on how they work. The speed of change of technology means that no one person can keep on top of all of it all the time.

Allison Hawkins, Hawkins & Co. Accounting Professional Corp.

Use a classic public relations trick and frame the problem—and solution—in a way that will matter to the top dogs. Connect the dots between your process change and their big picture priorities. Will it save time, budget, or attract a bigger or more lucrative client type? If you can make it matter to the firm’s overarching strategic vision, you’ll have an easier time of getting decision makers on your side.

“It’s only an experiment”

Try not to rush in asking for a lifetime commitment to a major system change. No matter how well thought out it is, there could be something you have missed or it might just not work in some way you were unable to foresee. Before the change becomes permanent, treat it, plan it, and present it as a trial, therefore minimizing the sense of risk surrounding it.

Suggest the new process be trialled for a week, a month, one day a week, or whatever unit of time seems appropriate to evaluate if it is likely to be successful. Perhaps it’s the kind of thing that could be trialled in one small area of the firm. If it’s an even remotely complex system, pick the simplest version of it to trial for a start.

You are not powerless

Being in charge of decision-making is not the only way to bring important changes to the way things operate. You can still play a vital role in ensuring your firm is not left behind as the industry moves forward.

To be heard, you’ll benefit from having an understanding of what biases you might be dealing with, and a good plan for incremental adoption of change. Most importantly—put some thought into how these changes are a force for good, in that they relate to the priorities for those at the top—strategy, vision, and the bottom line.


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