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Jennifer Wilson

Communicate to Drive Change

As your business makes changes in strategy, systems or processes, it pays to put yourself in the position of the people affected and arm yourself with answers to likely questions.

March 12, 2012
by Jennifer Wilson

I just had the privilege of spending two days with some of the brightest minds in accounting technology and several of the largest vendors in tax and accounting. We discussed major market trends in accounting technology, including:

  • The increasing pace of mergers and acquisitions (M&A) driving major cultural, process and systems integration initiatives with firms of all sizes.
  • A more mobile, flexible workforce spawning the need for anytime/anywhere work programs and processes.
  • The emergence of new entrepreneurial startup firms offering an exciting career option for those who feel that they want to run a different kind of firm.
  • An increasing chasm between CPAs committed to elevate their work to higher value consulting and services and those still very focused on compliance as their core offering.
  • The proliferation of best-of-breed cloud software solutions pushing vendors for more open architecture to allow firms more integration options.

No matter which of these trends is affecting you and your organization today, the one constant that affects all CPAs is that things are and will keep changing. Moreover, in the area of technology, the rate of change is happening at a greater pace than ever before.

As leaders, it is our job to help others understand change, accept it and adapt to it. Whether it is a merger, the startup of a new service line or industry initiative, the naming of a new CEO, the loss of a key staff person, the implementation of a new practice management solution or any other type of change, the faster we can facilitate the change acceptance process, the more nimble and competitive we’ll be. Everett Rogers was a pioneer in the study of change adoption, and he maintained that people will change more quickly when they can:

  • See an advantage or benefit to new behaviors over the way they’re doing it now. To help people accept change, you must answer their unspoken question: “If I change, what’s in it for me?”
  • Compare the new way to their old way and show correlations to things they are already comfortable with or identify things they can keep the same, while other things change. To drive change, you want people to be able to relate the new behavior to something they already know and are familiar with.
  • Overcome difficulty in understanding the new approach. Help your people accept change by communicating the new way in simple terms, or break the change process into bite-size pieces that can be assimilated more easily than complex change.
  • Test drive the change for a while. Consider piloting the change process with a smaller group that can work the kinks out before a larger group takes on the new way of behaving. Allow people to try operating in both the old and new ways interchangeably, if possible, so they can get comfortable with the new way.
  • See, firsthand, the benefits others are experiencing from the change. Observing the success of those who have already changed can be one of the most powerful motivators you can supply to those facing change.

Most leadership teams spend a lot of time deliberating about and defining the change they want, but spend almost no time planning their communications to support change adoption. They are then disappointed by what feels like a lack of buy-in or adoption.

Adopting Change

To lead people in your firm or group to adopt change, carefully plan your change communications and communicate your message around the change often and in different mediums so people hear a consistent message repeated. When communicating the change, make sure that your communications answer the questions on the minds of most stakeholders:

  • How does this change in behavior or process tie to our firm’s (or group’s) overall vision?
  • What will be better (for me, our firm and/or our clients) as a result of this change?
  • How does life after the change compare to life before the change? What will be the same? What will be different?
  • What’s the simplest path to adopt this change? What are the first steps? What exactly do you want me to change?
  • How can I try out this change?
  • Who else (like me or us) has experienced this change? What were their results?
  • How will we know that the change is complete?
  • Who do I communicate with regarding the change process? Who can I seek support from?

Conclusion

As your firm executes changes in strategy, programs, systems or processes, put yourself in the position of the people affected and prepare real answers for these change-adoption questions. When you do, you’ll be surprised by how much more smoothly and quickly change adoption occurs, providing your firm a distinct competitive advantage now and in the future.

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Jennifer Wilson is a partner and co-founder of ConvergenceCoaching, LLC, a leadership and marketing consulting and coaching firm that helps leaders achieve success. Learn more about the company and it services on their website.