How to be a catalyst for change in your firm

New ideas can help you and your firm save time, money and increase the number of clients you serve.

But any idea — whether it’s a tool, system, process, or just a new way to do things — requires change. And people resist change.

If you’re part of an accounting firm, and you’ve identified a need for change, how do you ensure the necessary improvements are made? How can you create buy-in, when others in your firm might be reluctant to try something new? 

Why change is often met with resistance

In all workplace communication, empathy is key. You may disagree with those in your team who are resistant to change, but it’s important to understand why they feel the way they do.

The first step? Learn their objections to change. Here are 3 concerns many leaders have when facing new challenges and changes.

  1. “What we’re doing is working OK”: Accountants love processes and getting things the exact way they want them. And by the time someone has grown into a partner or leader in their firm, it’s likely they’ll be fairly familiar with those processes. When you present change, it’s likely you’ll hear this one.

  2. “A big switch will slow people down”: Most firms aren’t as concerned about budget as they are mistakes and time. Making big changes in how people work opens up the potential for lost time and an increase in mistakes. Both of these problems cost money.

  3. “I don’t see the benefit”: This concern is most common with new tech. If those you’re trying to convince are a bit older, it may not sound necessary to switch to a new solution. Understanding complicated software can take more time (as a general rule, though there are always exceptions) for Baby Boomers in particular.

  4. “Too expensive”: Resistance to change can come down to dollars. If a new system is an additional cost to what is being spent today, or more expensive than something it would replace, it can be hard for some people to get past this. 

4 ways to overcome resistance towards a new process or tool

Now that you’re ready for the objections, it’s time to prepare the information and tactics you’ll need to overcome reluctance. 

1. Recognize other recent changes

Those you’re trying to convince of a change have (likely) thought about these things recently. Knowing trends your colleagues are currently dealing with helps you understand their decision-making process.

You and your coworkers may have started working remotely recently. Or you currently are working from home (and will be for the foreseeable future). This change is likely still weighing on the mind of your leadership.

  • Are we keeping up with demand? 

  • Is communication as clear as it can be? 

  • Do we need the same number of people right now?

If your change benefits everyone in the firm, it should also help alleviate concerns of the top brass.

Key takeaway: Take note of trends, big news and recent changes in your firm. See how these changes affect everyone. And think about how your idea, tool or process fits into the current culture.

2. Know the goal: get to the next step

The biggest challenge in achieving change is follow-through. When you share your idea, there’s actually a good chance you will get a positive response.

The leaders in your firm will probably agree with your ideas and say something along the lines of, “Yeah, that sounds like a good idea. We’ll need to upgrade at some point.”

The key is moving forward into an actual practical step. It’s too easy to table decisions around change — “let’s revisit this next quarter.” If you want momentum, you have to know the next step in the process.

As the internal catalyst for change, you have to think a bit like a salesperson. A good sales person always knows 1. The decision-maker, and 2. The next action.

Who is the primary person at your firm that needs to be on board for a change to happen? 

If you think a software tool is needed to help your firm move forward, you need to connect that decision-maker with a demo of that software. 

3. Lead with context: focus on benefits

Potentially the most effective way to get buy-in on an idea is to make sure the idea is not coming only from you. In your accounting firm, think about what leaders in the firm want. 

When bringing an idea about innovative technology, try to find other opinions, data, and customer case studies to support you. Understand what those who are resistant to change really want, and lead with that context.

Share with others in the firm from the perspective of strengthening the relationship with clients, and improving the overall experience.

Another similar approach is to listen to internal dialogue within the team. If you’ve heard co-workers complaining about a sticking point, you can introduce a new technology solution from the context of this pain. 

4. Finally, listen to the objections

While the above tips will help get the foot in the door, the resistance to change is very real. The final step in being the catalyst in your firm is to have a proper dialogue. Start with great preparation, and:

  • Fully understand the change you would like to see

  • Know what your leaders are currently doing and how the change fits into those moves

  • Begin conceptualizing how the change will happen in your firm

Once you’ve prepared as well as you can, it’s time to make the case for your idea. Even the best proposal won’t likely end with, “Ok, let’s do it!”

It might, but don’t get your hopes up.

The best thing you can do is listen. After all, you want to make the change for the good of the company. And if you really understand the change, you’ll be more than ready to talk it out and convince them to move forward.

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