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Adapting to the change that is here now

Why sustainable change is the only way forward

Intro

We do a lot of predicting here at Business Fitness, and these days the only thing we can be certain of predicting correctly is that everything will always be changing. The tools you use will change constantly, your clients’ needs will evolve, and the way you attract and retain staff will be in perpetual motion.

Change is constant, and permanent, and in every part of our lives.

The way we communicate is changing rapidly, from letters to landline phone calls to mobiles and instant messages. The phones in our pockets and the computers on our desks require constant software updates and frequent upgrades. The software subscriptions we pay for last but a few years on average before we move onto the next thing.

And if it’s happening in the rest of your life, it’s happening at work too.

In the last 20 years in our industry, it was easy to get by without having to change much. You could change software providers and reasonably expect to get 10-20 years out of a single product. Legacy clients were content with the way things were, and staff would stay with the same company their whole career. But things are very different now.

If change is constant, then it only makes sense to approach the process of change in a constant manner. We can no longer simply make a change and hope it will last: it won’t.

The firms that come out on top of this next wave will be the ones that approach change as evolution, not as a fad or a temporary bandwagon to hitch a ride on. They won’t pledge allegiance to a single tool or platform, a single kind of service or a single way of doing business. They will take a careful, measured approach to watching what’s going on in the industry and deciding when to make their move — constantly, frequently, over and over again.

Gone are the days where firms could simply adopt a new software product, declare a new working arrangement or announce a new client service, and expect it to remain unchanged.

This is why, at Business Fitness, we advise our clients to embrace a philosophy of sustainable change. Sustainable change requires a firm-wide approach to technology adoption, an understanding that real change begins and ends with human behaviour change (not new software or a strategy), and that any changes embraced by the firm are always subject to review (and further change).

Sustainable change for client services

As your clients face unique pressures and discover new opportunities in changing markets, the way you service them will need to adapt — both in terms of what you offer them and how you communicate with them.

As technology makes communication with clients easier, accountants have the opportunity to communicate more frequently — but as a consequence, many clients are developing higher expectations around faster response times, flexible contact options and additional service and care.

We know many firms who wish to dictate the terms of their client communications, but the reality is that as more communication options open up, your clients will expect custom communication to their desires. You’ll need to look at connecting in ways they prefer and customising this for each client, whether it’s in-person, on the phone, over email or even instant messaging.

More importantly, offering real value to your clients in the new era will involve more than just compliance — in particular, the firms that thrive will put data to work to spot new opportunities, predict problems, and work with clients to become trusted advisors and solve their most pressing business problems.

With your clients’ industries and businesses undergoing constant change, the services you provide and the way you provide them will also need to evolve regularly if you wish to remain of value.

Sustainable change and your team

The way we interact and work with our team members has been significantly impacted by the pandemic, but this kind of disruption will become an increasingly permanent feature of our lives in the post-pandemic world.

Positive and sustainable cultural changes require strong leadership. Partners will need to set new expectations for the team and work collaboratively to create a new culture and identity post-pandemic.

The key to managing changes in workplace arrangements and expectations will be collecting accurate data internally and using it to discover and optimise opportunities, and keeping open lines of communication between staff and partners, ensuring everyone is heard and everyone is clear on expectations.

Ultimately, the most productive and engaged teams will have regular chances to give feedback, suggest and implement valuable changes both internally within the firm and externally to clients.

Sustainable change and technology

In this new era of accounting, the tools you work with on a daily basis may be the most visible changes of all. The tools you use determine your workflow, the way you communicate with your team and clients, your efficiency and productivity, and, ultimately, the meaning and satisfaction that your team get out of their jobs.

The right technology can be the difference between a seamless and enjoyable experience for your client, an efficient, productive and profitable day for the firm, and an enjoyable working day for your staff. Indeed, the technology you choose to adopt — or ignore — will either hold you back or set you far ahead of your competitors.

But an easy mistake to make is believing you can rely on technology alone to fix all your problems. Simply installing a new piece of software will do little to fix most business problems (which, at their root, are people problems). Technology adoption also needs to be matched by behaviour change if any problems are to be fixed, or opportunities capitalised on.

In order to be successful in the long-term, implementing new technology firm-wide will require a focussed firm effort leveraging dedicated resources and skills. Firms need to start thinking of technology as an enabler rather than a means to an end — it enables you to deliver flawless client work, improve productivity and productivity, while making work more meaningful and enjoyable for everyone.

The days of set and forget are gone. We need to start thinking about change not as an action but a process, not as a revolution but as ongoing daily habits and behaviour shifts, not just at the partner level but right across the firm.

In the end, only the firms that can react quickly, stay on top of market changes and make changes on the fly will have any hope of making it in the new world.

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