I recently had the honor of presenting on the topic of change management, with my friend and fellow industry consultant Guy Gage of Partners Coach, at the Accounting Today Growth and Profitability Summit.  For those who know me well and have been following my writing over the last seven years, I often like to combine current happenings in our industry with analogies from my recent experiences (personal or otherwise).  Telling stories and relating those to topics and concepts we’re dealing with in the CPA industry is one way I’ve found effective to get the concepts of process improvement and change management out there.  This blog is no different.

The topic of managing change effectively within your firm is picking up steam.  That’s because it’s not an easy task and the risk of suboptimal outcomes is higher than in the past.  Whether it’s a new software conversion, process improvement initiative, or marketing and growth initiative, getting people to change and buy in is hard.   Recently, I wrote about the need to explain the two key “why” questions to your team whenever your firm is implementing a change or new idea.  First, you must effectively answer the question “why do we need to change?”  Assuming this first tollgate is passed, the second question we absolutely must address with change and new ideas is “why will these ideas / changes be better than what we’re currently doing?”  Effectively communicating answers to these two “why” questions goes a long way toward unity and buy in.

Today, let me offer another strategy to complement the above – make it personal.  Yes, communicate the WIIFM (what’s in it for me) and get people to understand others’.  Some of you may start dismissing at this point as we’re getting too “touchy-feely”.  But do so at your own risk.  I can’t help but look back over the past seven years and the 100+ process improvement projects I’ve facilitated in this industry and think about how almost every single one of these initiatives had improved morale and better management of time as one of the key objectives.  Yes, what that means is that internal process improvement teams yearn for better balance as a key outcome of undertaking an efficiency initiative.

I’m no different.  I often joke I have to practice what I preach otherwise I can’t be taken seriously.  And I can honestly tell you that even though I probably work more hours today than I did before I started Flowtivity, every single hour I spend working is meaningful (some may use the term productive).  It doesn’t feel like work when you can say that.  The way I look at it, I don’t have time to waste.  With three little ones at home, when I’m home I need to be home.  That time is special, and I’ll never get it back.  I’m taking advantage as often as I can of a spontaneous weekday matinee after school with my kids, a Friday afternoon round of golf with my son or daughter, playing catch in the yard, and making almost every sporting event and school program.  Balance in life isn’t just about the quantity of hours at work or at home.  It’s about meaningful hours at work and at home.

I had this point hit really close to home recently.  My wife and I had parent-teacher conferences for our 1st Grade son and Pre-K daughter on a Thursday evening before Halloween.  I made it a point to have my travel schedule complete earlier on Thursday to be home for those conferences and for Halloween the next day.  The good news is our kids’ are doing a tremendous job so far this school year.  But I was extremely humbled (and yes, a little teary-eyed) when my son’s 1st Grade Teacher explained to me that as the featured student of the month in October, my son listed out the following answer to the question “What do you want to be when you grow up?”:

“A Dad”, my son had written on the poster board.

Not a policeman, astronaut or football player.  But, a Dad.  When his teacher asked him to explain, she shared with me that he said “Because my Dad plays with me and we have fun together”.  All of those hours playing catch in the yard, sitting and watching a soccer practice, and snuggling up watching movies on Friday night movie night are absolutely meaningful and memorable.  It really hit me hard this weekend how much that time is worth.

So when we talk about process improvement through Lean Six Sigma, it goes way beyond just some efficiency gains and better client service.  It is allowing people to have more meaningful hours – both at work and at home.  That’s the WIIFM.  That’s making the change personal.  Understanding what the client values and what your internal customers value (a key part of Lean Six Sigma), truly allows you to focus on more productive (meaningful) hours at work.  It’s a win-win-win.  The firm does well, the clients are happy, and your team gets the opportunity to spend more meaningful hours away from work.  The next time you put off reviewing that tax return for another week because the client doesn’t need it for a week and a half, or you drag your feet on reviewing workpapers while the audit team is in the field, think about that internal customer of yours that you may be causing a fire drill for later.  All of a sudden that fire drill at the last minute may mean missing a daughter’s 6:30pm basketball game.  Make your hours count.  Don’t just count your hours.  That’s why we need to change.

About the author:

Dustin HostetlerDustin Hostetler is the founder of Flowtivity and the practice leader and lead consultant for Lean4CPAs by Flowtivity. As a Lean Six Sigma Master Black Belt with extensive experience working inside a large regional CPA firm, he has taken proven Lean techniques from the manufacturing floor and tailored them to bring ground-breaking value to public accounting firms. His innovation and passion has brought true efficiency to accounting — helping accounting firms unleash the potential of their professionals. He can be reached at dustin@flowtivity.com

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