Overcome random changes and create lasting improvement

In the past two weeks, I've been asked the same question three different times "How do you get CPAs to buy into making changes to their processes?"

Think back to prior struggles you've had getting partners, and non-partners alike, to go along with process improvement changes. Did you ever struggle with getting the buy-in needed? If you haven't, your firm is unique...and lucky. It is human nature to resist change, and the fear of the unknown holds many of us back.

So how did I answer the question when asked? My answer may sound strange, but it starts with understanding where the question comes from.

Examine the Past

Take time and get to the root cause of the problem. This means figuring out why your firm and its individuals have struggled to buy into process changes in the past. Normally, there are three different reasons why individuals don't buy into firm initiatives and continue doing things their way. They are as follows:

1. Prior change or improvement ideas didn't address the true problem(s).

If you're making changes to a process, and those changes aren't fixing what's truly broke, naysayers deserve a badge of honor for resisting. They know not to point the chute of a snowblower high and northwest when you've got a 30 mph wind from the northwest you won't make any progress and all you will have to show for your work is a face full of snow. This mistake plays out several ways within firms:

  • Best practices. Someone goes to a conference, hears "best practices" and comes back to implement them as their own. Unless you have the exact same issue, the exact same complexity and the exact same team members of the same level and with the same experiences, they won't be your best practices.
  • One-size-fits-all. You take the one-size-fits-all software best practices and implement them without adapting them to your firm.

2. Input wasn't solicited from key stakeholders.

By not soliciting feedback from key stakeholders and testing those improvements, chances are you won't uncover all the problems. No one knows the work like the people doing the work. If you haven't done the work in the recent past, or ever, you must solicit insight from the people who do. Facilitate the selection of quality feedback before you go problem-solving.

3. The new process actually takes more time than before.

It seems like a no-brainer that this shouldn't happen, but it does. This is most often seen in what I call the technology-efficiency curve. Let me explain. There are steps taken and work being done in your firm that do not add value to your internal or external clients. You do them because you've used technology as a patchwork to true process improvement. Your ultimate goal, and why you are in business, is to make money. You don't exist to take extra administrative steps because a software program requires them even if they don't save time later.

Prove Why Change Is Needed

It's no wonder we have so many naysayers about process improvement changes in our industry. We have done some not so smart things over the years. The good news is that the powerful DMAIC "define, measure, analyze, improve and control" problem-solving model is helping firms change.

Before throwing best practices or new technology on a project, firms that follow the model do their homework first. They understand their current process and where they are losing efficiencies or having quality problems. Then they insert targeted improvements to deal with those problems. They are proving why something needs to change before making a change. Sound simple? It is.

Get Buy-In

So, how do you garner partner buy-in? Start by looking at what your firm has done to earn a lack of confidence. Understand how past mistakes are guiding current behaviors. Once you realize how you got to where you are, make a plan to change that. Involve a mix of employees to tackle process improvement in your firm. Do your homework and make sure you're improving the process, not just patching it. Test the process to make sure it will create the change you desire. By proving that change "real, measurable change" is possible, more people will believe it and support your efforts.

As an industry, we have allowed our processes to become more complicated and cumbersome than need be. Isn't it time we got back to the basics of delivering exceptional client service and helping our firms and our clients make money?

Lean CPA
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