How to implement change when you don’t know where to start

If the term ‘change management’ fills you with anxiety and fear, you’re not alone.

Conceptualizing, introducing and implementing change to your firm can be overwhelming. You need commitment, time, and buy-in from your team. And, ideally, you need to execute this with as little pain as possible, while deriving the maximum value for the effort.

Getting started can be the most difficult step to take—especially when you know the amount of work required.

But this shouldn't hold you back. Successfully introducing change to your accounting firm starts with preparation.

With the right preparation, you have the power to create a plan for change that can transform your firm.

Here are six key components of an effective change management plan to help you get started.

1. Identify what you’re solving for

The key to successful change in your firm is knowing exactly what you’re changing and why. So take the time to zero-in on the areas that aren’t working as well as you’d like them to.

Be specific and categorize areas for improvement across people, processes, and technology.

For example:

  • People: Is there a gap in your organizational structure that may be negatively impacting workloads, behaviors or your team’s culture?

  • Processes: Is there a process breakdown or procedure causing double-ups and/ or task redundancies that are ultimately impacting productivity levels? 

  • Technology: Is there a valuable new tool or system that, until now, you’ve put off implementing due to the short-term disruption to your firm and/ or your team’s resistance to change?

Focus on your pain points, so you can better-understand what you’re solving for when preparing to implement change. From there you can prioritize based on impact to revenue, productivity, or growth for your firm.

Continue the discussion in Karbon Community: Share your experiences and tips for implementing change across your business

2. Set your goals and measures of success

How will you know when you’ve successfully implemented change? How will you know if you’ve missed the mark?

It’s important to set clear goals and measurables to help you understand how well your team has adopted the change. And remember to start with some benchmarks to help you synthesize your results.

For example, if the change you’re implementing at your firm is focused on improving the efficiency of your client onboarding process by introducing a whole new procedure, make sure you measure how long the process takes now, before you begin implementing change. Without this benchmark, your new data is somewhat meaningless.

Be sure to aim for an end date—if you don’t draw a line in the sand, your change management process will likely continue on for far too long.

Following best practice goal setting will guide you towards creating goals that are SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time-bound).

And don’t forget to share these goals with your team—clear communication is key to navigating change at your accounting firm.

3. Understand the change impacts

Depending on the type of change you’re preparing to implement, different groups of people will be impacted. It might be your:

  • Team overall

  • Client managers

  • Onboarding specialists

  • Business advisory clients

  • Admin team

  • Executive board

Mitigate risk by understanding the impacts of the change across your firm and your clients.

Be prepared for the ‘what-ifs’ or worst-case scenarios if the change goes awry or creates unintended consequences.

Carefully consider how this change might affect every member of your firm, your clients and any other key stakeholders.

Potential impacts to these groups may exist in many forms, including disruptions to:

  • Roles and organizational structure

  • Workforce management and staffing

  • Systems training and adoption

  • Temporary system downtime

  • Impacted Service Level Agreements (SLAs)

4. Plan out your change with milestones and timelines

Just like driving to a new destination without a map is risky, implementing change without a plan is asking for a disaster.

It’s critical that you have a plan and workflow/s in place to help manage and implement your change.

Having a timeline mapped out in advance, including specific milestones and check-in dates will help keep the project on track. Remember to keep your timeline realistic and flexible for your rollout and full transition.

And you don’t have to start your plan or workflow/s from scratch. Your firm isn’t the first to implement change, so leverage existing templates created by other accounting practices like this change management template from the Karbon Template Library.

5. Get buy-in from, and align, your team

Without buy-in from your team, you risk a clunky transition met with reluctance, resistance and poor uptake. Getting this right is critical to the success of your change implementation.

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

Clearly identify the staff and clients who will be impacted by the change. Get buy-in upfront so no one is surprised by the change, making sure everyone is clear and aligned with their role and expectations.

And articulate exactly how this change will improve their day-to-day—get them excited.

Prioritize communication and transparency

Understand how to utilize communication before, during and after the change. Consider preparing a simple plan to capture:

  • Who will be communicated to at each stage of the change process

  • How you’ll communicate with them at specific points (email, existing meetings, all-hands/ one-off meetings, etc.) 

  • The frequency of the communication

Don’t lose sight of the importance of transparency, especially in the case of organizational changes. Change can introduce fear and insecurity to your team, so take the time to anticipate the types of questions they will have in advance.

Sharing why the change is necessary and focusing on the positive outcomes will help alleviate the uncertainty they may be feeling. Even better, if the change will improve their day-to-day, it’s an opportunity to get them engaged and supportive of the change.

Remember, it’s better to over-communicate and bring your team along on the journey with ongoing updates at each milestone. Ask for feedback so everyone feels heard, even those not directly affected by the change.

6. Empower a change champion

Appointing someone from your team to act as a change champion is a proven way of reducing resistance to, and increasing the uptake of, change—whether it’s a new tool, process, service, communication method, policy, etc.

Change champions are team members who help facilitate change. It’s important that they believe in the upcoming change, understand it and champion it.

They are often the first point of contact for the rest of the team and can provide advice, updates, answer questions, and help motivate the rest of the team.

Depending on the upcoming change, their exact role might vary, but ultimately their function is to drive the change.

For example, if you’re implementing a new practice management tool like Karbon, your change champion will be the team member working directly with Karbon, acting as the conduit between Karbon and your team, helping to field answers and resolve issues related to:

  • Common questions

  • Gaps in uptake

  • Opportunities for further training/ optimized usage

Focus on the outcome of your changes

When you’re not sure how to get started with change management at your firm, it’s easy to be overcome by the mentality that ‘it’s not worth the hassle’.

But all you have to do is imagine the end-result—the time savings, the happy team, the satisfied clients, the boosted top line, the growing firm—to remember that it’ll all be worth it.

Change is a big commitment. But by creating a solid plan, you’ll be prepared to successfully navigate your team through the transition, so you can enjoy the end results.

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