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Getting people on board with innovation AccountingWEB - An image from the practice innovation handbook

Getting people on board with innovation


Staff and clients may be resistant to change but by presenting it the right way you can encourage them to embrace new situations and reap the benefits.

30th Oct 2023
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As human beings, we are hard-wired to dislike change. Our brains put a great amount of energy into protecting us from danger, and often that means convincing us that change, any change, presents a threat to us and so shouldn’t be undertaken. This resistance often stems from the brain’s predisposition to prefer known over unknown situations as a survival mechanism.

When you combine this with the knowledge that all human beings are inherently programmed to be lazy (our innate tendency to be energy efficient can often manifest as a desire to maintain the status quo, a phenomenon deeply rooted in our evolutionary history), then trying to make a change in yourself is monumentally difficult. So, by extension, trying to get staff and clients to adopt change can seem like a herculean task. 

But innovation requires not only change by its very nature, but a shift in attitude and process by complete groups of people. Staff, clients and whole industries cannot remain immune to innovation, and in the past few years, we’ve seen the accounting profession grapple with the necessity to adapt to potential new disruptive legislation (I’m looking at you, Making Tax Digital), combined with the ennui that repeated delays and naysaying has injected into proceedings. 

The Making Tax Digital (MTD) saga has at least revealed something about the accounting profession – we are capable of change and willing to do so at scale. 

The kicker here is that this change is more often than not pushed by external rather than internal drivers. How many people would have looked to change if MTD hadn’t loomed large on the horizon for a while?

There are valuable lessons here, though. Accountants I have spoken to who have seen this as a golden opportunity to streamline their processes, have talked about the positive impact on their bottom line, their ability to service clients more effectively, and upsell compliance work more easily.

So what’s worked, and what hasn’t? And how do you get through the painful bits quickly so that you can achieve success, whatever that looks like for you? Here is my rundown on how to effectively implement change for success.

1. Start at the end

Before you make any changes, think about what you want the end result to look like and write that down. You need to be specific here, so that you can measure whether the changes you are making are successful. Don’t just write down “become more efficient” or “make more profit”. You need to articulate your version of success in a very specific way. Try things like “increase EBITDA by 10%”, or “spend every Wednesday out of the office”. This not only gives you a very clear end result to work towards, but in achieving or not achieving it, you can see how successful your project has been.

2. Get your team on board

Now that you clearly know what success looks like, you can communicate this to your team. What’s important here is to tell them why you want to make the changes and focus the discussion around what’s in it for them. I use the WIFM (what’s in it for me) approach whenever we need to change things.

People find it much harder to get on board with change when they don’t understand how it will positively benefit them. Using WIFM as a way of thinking will let you frame changes in a way that makes it easy for your team to see how their life will improve afterward. For example, if your goal is to increase profits, then you can explain how that will feed into opportunities for staff remuneration. Or if it’s to cut down on the number of emails that get pinged back and forth, you can demonstrate how much more time that will leave for staff to do the work they actually enjoy. And even if the goal is for you as the founder to have a day off midweek, even that can be an opportunity for staff to develop autonomy and not have the boss around for a full day – and who doesn’t love that?

3. Get your clients bought in

If you want clients to change the way they interact with you, whether that’s a new piece of software or a different way to get in touch, an email with a link or demo video just won’t cut it. You need to pick up the phone and spend some time talking it through with them. Direct communication, such as phone calls, often leads to better client engagement and understanding than impersonal methods, such as emails or video links.

WIFM applies here too – a little bit of conversation around the benefits is often all it takes. When we had a new suite of digital tools to use, we noticed that our longer-standing clients were the slowest to adopt them, even though they would have benefited them the most. Why? They don’t read the beautifully crafted emails or watch the demo videos, but they appreciate a phone call to help them set up the new tool. We’ve seen adoption rise by 20% in just a few months by having a structured plan in place to target those clients – and they’re all delighted with the results.

Change is growth

Remember that change, while often daunting, is really about growth and pushing boundaries. Think back to when you first did a set of accounts on your own, or started in a new job. Sure, it might have been a bit nerve-racking initially, but once you got the hang of it, the feeling was exhilarating.

The same goes for innovation in any profession. So, whether you’re tinkering with new software or embracing a new business model, approach it with an open heart and a dash of curiosity. And hey, if ever in doubt, just reach out to your fellow accountants. We’re all navigating this whirlwind of change together, and sharing insights, successes and even the occasional hiccup can only bring us closer as a community. Cheers to embracing the new.

This article is an extract from our new editorial special report: “The practice innovation handbook”. Download it now to access expert advice and real-life examples to help you identify areas for improvement in your firm and make changes that will drive innovation and boost efficiency.

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