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Managing Change Management Expectations

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It’s been nearly 60 years since Bob Dylan wrote that “the times, they are a-changin,” and that statement could be used to accurately describe our world at any point since then. It’s certainly true in accounting, where adaptation and evolution are necessary to remain essential to clients. Bill.com's Jeannie Ruesch shares her tips.

Mar 17th 2022
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As accounting firms look at making major strategic changes – like adding new services, pivoting to a CAS model, or adopting new technologies – it is important to balance optimism with reality.

You know it’s not as easy as turning on a light (everyone would do it if it was), but how can you increase your successes on the path to adoption? It starts with a concept most may not think of as a strategy that applies to the changes they are making right now (but really does): change management.

 If your firm is considering introducing a major change to your accounting firm, here is a dose of tough love followed by practical tips to help turn your vision into a reality.

Implementing Change is Hard...At First

Change is hard. This is not earth-shattering advice, but what that actually means in terms of your team might be the most important takeaway from this article. Making the decision to invest in change is the easy part, execution is harder—and far more human than you might originally plan for.

The journey you’re about to take your team on won’t happen according to that PowerPoint timeline. The steps you reallyi need to take are rooted in the human perspective on significant change. And we’ve all been through enough change in the last few years to understand exactly how this feels. 

As information is initially shared, you are likely to be met with denial, and perhaps also (at the worst moments) some strong resistance. This is to be expected, since replacing something familiar with something that needs to be relearned can shake the confidence of even the strongest employee.

As time goes on and your team is provided with encouragement and direction, they will rebuild their strengths and regain their confidence in this part of their job. At that point, the earlier denial and frustration will give way to acceptance.

The stages shouldn’t come as a surprise. The only time we get to make a decision, see the results instantly, and then choose to completely rewind as if it never happened is in a “choose your own adventure” book.

In real life, change management is always going to be disruptive to varying degrees, but these ups and downs are a normal part of the process. Thorough planning and carefully managed expectations can help ensure that your company pivots and adapts with as few pain points as possible.

 However, none of this is to say that successful change management is not possible. If it were, you’d still be using an abacus to do your jobs. Want to increase your chances? Put your marketing hat on.

 Change Management is an Exercise in Marketing

Think of your team like they are your customers. Take a page from one of the best marketed brands in the world: Apple. Do you remember your first thought when Apple introduced the Apple Watch?

I bet it was something along the lines of, I have a watch and a phone… why would I need this? Apple knew you would think that. They were ready with education about its broader value, personalization and integration into your life—and compelling ads to make it look cool didn’t hurt!

 This same approach should apply to implementing internal changes within your organization. Employees are getting fatigued with change after the past two years, so it should be a top priority for your team to be on board with what you are doing.

This needs to go beyond why you are making these changes and how they support your customers. You also need to clearly convey “what’s in it for me” – how this will benefit your team members in their current roles.

Everyone impacted by the change management process will benefit when your team has a cohesive understanding of what is coming next and why. If not, process delays could have a ripple effect that impacts your client experience and overall success.

Consider the following components when developing your change management “marketing plan":

Sell your plan at the top (of the org chart, that is). Make sure the senior members of your organization are up to speed and in favor of what is coming. This allows them to confidently show staff that they understand and support the changes being implemented. Having them “in the trenches” with the rest of the team can help to keep your team members from dragging their feet.

Identify your “influencers” to spread the excitement. We discussed the need to make your compelling case above, but you can’t just have the same members of the leadership team talking up your plan. You need to do some "influencer” marketing and enlist champions across the company to get on board and promote the opportunity and benefits to their teammates.

Stock up on your customer service resources. The changes you are implementing may require learning a new process or relearning how to do a familiar task, which has an immediate impact on the speed and comfort levels of your team doing their jobs. Clearly identifying resources for your team to lean on can alleviate some of the frustration.

Put together a list of Frequently Asked Questions and Frequently Recurring Problems: common challenges (and their solutions!) that others have run into while making similar changes. This lets you troubleshoot more easily and helps team members feel supported.

It is also important to identify who in your organization will serve as the go-to for problems that can’t be solved alone. If you’re working with a partner or a vendor, see if they have dedicated support staff to assist with troubleshooting.

Promote case studies to showcase what winning looks like. The best change management plans include short and long-term milestones, which can and should be leveraged. Case studies help provide tangible evidence of the success and keep up momentum.

Identify team members that have adapted to the change particularly well or who have begun seeing improvements in their day-to-day based on what is being implemented. Then, promote them like you would your best customer— share their success across the organization to show other team members how their colleagues are benefitting from these changes (hint: this also ignites those who have a bit of a competitive streak). If you are working with an outside partner or vendor, they may have case studies from peer or competitor organizations that can also help create a sense of familiarity.

 Bring on the Swag. Do you remember the childhood excitement of getting a pencil with your name on it? This concept is still true as adults: everyone loves swag! When you’re in the trickier parts of roll out, small reminders that you appreciate your team can go a long way toward maintaining motivation and morale.

Think about different ways you can celebrate achieving each milestone throughout the implementation process, like a small celebration in the office or a branded gift for remote employees. As an example: there’s a coffee brand that I love and order from ofen (and that’s putting it mildly).

So of course, what swag made sense for them to send me? A coffee mug! It’s not just about getting a mug as a gift (it is a really great mug), but about the company building a positive, personal connection with me and recognizing my value as a customer.

Sending some swag to your team related to the change they’re working through can help build up the positive emotional connection with that change. Every bit helps, and a little can go a long way.

Change, We are A-managin’

If you made it to the end, then congratulations – you weren’t scared off by what might feel like an uphill climb. And at times it will be an uphill climb. But if you remember the curve, going uphill is a good thing – and when you reach the summit, you’ll be ready to celebrate!

I can’t promise you won’t hit bumps in the road, but with a thoughtful change management plan those bumps will seem insignificant compared to the benefits you (and your team) will see once your changes are fully implemented.

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