One of the few constants of every accounting firm is change—it is necessary for your survival and growth. But introducing something new—whether it be a system, process or any other new way of doing things—can be fraught with challenges.
Your team might resist, making the change stick can be difficult, or it could take far more time and resources than you anticipated. The chances of any this occurring can be reduced dramatically, though, with a well thought-through change management plan.
Careful planning and preparation, and following through properly, will make all the difference when it comes to adoption and adherence. Here is a step-by-step plan of what you need to do to ensure a successful transition from your old way of doing things to the new.
Start by defining and communicating why something the team is doing today, needs to change (whether it’s a system, a process or a team structure).
You need to communicate across your entire firm, since everyone needs to understand why this particular way of doing things is no longer the best way (maybe it’s not delivering the most revenue, getting to the next step as quickly as possible, or perhaps it’s a decision led by some staff).
You need clear goals, as well as metrics that will demonstrate any progress made from the coming change.
For example, if you are looking at improving your onboarding process management, a clear goal would be to take it from 90 to 60 days to get a client from initial conversation to routine business. A great metric would be to track the number of days for each phase of the onboarding process. If the days start reducing, you'll know you’re on track to hit your goal. Clarity like this builds trust, confidence, and accountability in your team.
The objectives you set need to be owned by everyone. This means they should relate to overarching goals of the firm like revenue or efficiency. So, while not everyone will be directly influencing the goal, everyone will be indirectly contributing to its success.
Whether or not someone will be directly involved with the change, everyone needs to be a part of it, either as a contributor or as a need-to-know member.
Assemble a team that is going to plan, implement and own the change, and make sure it's cross-organizational—both in terms of having someone from every department that may be affected by the change, as well as doers, managers, and partners. This is critical to ensure buy-in from everyone across your practice.
If there is not cross-organization buy-in, then failure is likely. You will be putting a new process or system in place that some won’t see the value of, or will reject. They will resist the change either overtly or subconsciously. Inclusion is critical to successful change management.
You need to help everyone understand their part in the current process, and how this will change. It can be a lot of work and mean having a conversation with each team member to understand their particular issues and re-emphasize why the change important.
Whether or not they agree to it is not the most important thing. The primary consideration is to give everyone a chance to be heard and ensure their individual issues are addressed. This is a critical step because it only takes a little frustration or lack of communication to destroy all the good work done up to this point.
At this stage, the change should be put in place. You need to make sure everyone on the team adopts it. Be patient and don't worry about mistakes—just ensure everyone learns from them.
People who don’t adhere to the change, however, should be held accountable. This could start with a conversation, but if it continues it should be escalated appropriately. And remember that change needs to be lead from the top—if a senior manager or partner doesn’t adhere to the change as whole-heartedly as everyone else, everyone will see that and it will create pushback.
You have probably realized by now that any major change is all about communication. It's not just telling people what to do, but also about telling the whole story of why it's happening, what will change, what their contribution is, how it's going to be implemented, and what the outcomes are going to be.
Over-communication is the best way to remind people why the change is so important, and to feel a sense of accomplishment as progress is made towards the right direction.
Don't forget to appreciate the fruits of the team’s labor. Taking a step back and celebrating as an organization will set you up well for future changes (you'll need to implement changes in the future in order to keep moving, remaining relevant and survive).
Celebrations also foster trust, a greater willingness to move forward coming off a recognized win, team building and motivation to do it all over again.
Change is tough, but it’s necessary for the survival of any accounting practice—particuarly those on the road to achieving practice excellence. An effective change management plan such as this one will give any major new initiative every possible chance for success.
To help you determine what changes you need to make to your firm, download the Practice growth playbook. Drawing on strategies employed by some of the world's most progressive firms, the playbook gives you a set of tools to transform your practice and double your profits in one year.