Imagine you are riding an elephant to your favorite ice cream shop. You have been going there since you were a kid and love it. It is on the other side of the river, but the bridge is out. You have two options: ride two days out of your way to get to your regular shop or try a new ice cream shop two blocks away that has been getting great reviews.
The rational part of you (the rider, the brains of the operation) thinks the new shop sounds great. But the emotional side (the elephant, tradition) is very attached to the original place. The rider is responsible for providing the path for the elephant. However, for the most part, the elephant does what it wants. So no matter how hard the rider tries to get the elephant to go to the new store, it keeps walking the path to the old store.
This is the nature of change and our resistance to change.
Our emotional attachments prevent us from accepting the rational argument for something new. Whether it is changing your business model to smooth out revenue, moving your technology platform to the cloud to become more efficient or handing over the reins to someone so that you can retire, it all comes down to emotional attachment. This emotional attachment can make you, your employees and your clients resistant to change.
Over the years, I have learned from personal experience and from watching others that embracing change is a strong competitive advantage. Of course, change for change’s sake creates chaos. But when there is a rational argument for change, the sooner you adopt change the better. The benefits are more than just the change itself - the learning cycle speeds up and that leads to more competitive advantages in the future.
So now is not the time to give in to the internal resistance, especially as it relates to technology.
We have seen amazing advances in technology in a short amount of time. I grew up with multiple businesses around me and back in the 1980s, the only way to conduct business was in an office with a landline and a limited-capacity computer the size of a Mazda. Now 30 years later, your office is wherever you like – at home, on the soccer field, in the air or on a train – and you have everything you need at your fingertips no matter where you are. Technology is growing more and more sophisticated. In a short amount of time we have seen it take on many tasks that used to be mundane and labor-intensive.
The question each practitioner needs to ask is, “What value am I adding above and beyond those labor-intensive tasks?” Think of it this way: The norm for handling personal taxes when I started at Price Waterhouse in 1989 was to find the form, gather the needed information, fill out the form and drop it in the mail. Now, millennials can go online, sync their data between multiple providers, plug in a few numbers and voila! their taxes are done. All the heavy lifting is handled by the software. If you haven’t already, it is time to elevate the value you bring to clients – be it strategic financial insight or practical advice. And technology can help you do this by taking those brain-numbing, high-labor tasks off of your hands.
So how do you overcome the inherent resistance to adopting new technologies?
Leadership plays a large role in influencing technology adoption. Demonstrate enthusiasm for change. Embrace it and set a strategy that shows an understanding of how technology enhances operations. If leadership sets a strategic objective around adopting new technology and manages to that objective on a regular basis, that mindset will flow to employees faster than you think.
By the way, when change becomes part of your culture it is critical that leaders make it clear that they don’t have all the answers. The first reason is that it will take you too much time to come up with all the answers. The second is that you will be wrong (technology changes quickly). And the third and maybe most important is to empower your employees. One change agent in a firm is great but multiple is better.
Planning and Testing
Adopting new technology (for example, moving to the cloud) can be a big project. So unless you are starting your firm from scratch, plan to tackle one area at a time. Talk with your customers, your employees and other firms to find out the technology that can or has helped them the most. From here you can develop a schedule for rolling out certain technologies over a predetermined span. This way, you can make measurable progress and not get overwhelmed or left behind.
If your firm is big enough, assign a project champion to the task of getting the cloud integrated into your firm. As a matter of fact, think about assigning someone under 40. A younger advocate is probably already more connected to the cloud and will see lots of opportunities to move forward. As a show of appreciation, you can highlight this person’s efforts internally and externally.
Do not be afraid to test-drive new technology. Consider pilot projects with some of your best clients and up-and-coming practitioners. This allows you to leverage your knowledge and experience from a personal perspective and build a strong case (and buzz) for technology adoption.
Do Not Underestimate Passion
Being able to talk passionately about technology is critical. Your firsthand experience is key. It will make all the difference to employees and clients. They will feel your energy, and your guidance will exude confidence. Think about it this way: You would not go on an African safari without a guide who knows the way. So do not let your employees and clients go into the cloud without gaining firsthand knowledge of the terrain.
If you feel you need more knowledge before you can talk passionately, attend some webinars, go to some conferences, or even bring in a consultant and be open about the learning experience you are on. This will invite all sorts of interesting opportunities for you to learn and grow.
Across the nation and around the world tech-savvy accountants, founders, owners and executives are using game-changing technology to increase the value they offer to their clients. While resistance to change is embedded in almost everyone, do not let it inhibit your firm’s growth. Give the rider control and you will find a better ice cream shop in a lot less time.
René Lacerte founded Bill.com in August 2006, bringing with him more than 20 years of experience in the finance, software and payments industries. As a fourth-generation entrepreneur, Lacerte developed the concept for Bill.com based on personal experience growing up in multiple businesses as a kid and then co-founding his first company, PayCycle, in 1999. Lacerte also spent five years at Intuit, creating and managing the company’s bill presentment team and growing its bill payment and credit card businesses into a multimillion-dollar concern. He also launched Intuit’s first connected payroll product, growing the team from two employees to 300 in 18 months. He has a Master of Science degree in industrial engineering and a Bachelor of Arts in quantitative economics from Stanford University.