3 Steps to Make Change Management a Competitive Advantage

by Dr. Sean Stein Smith, CPA, Lehman College – February 13, 2020
3 Steps to Make Change Management a Competitive Advantage

The accounting profession, without a doubt, is the midst of some dramatic changes no matter how the profession is analyzed. Demographics, technological disruption, non-accountant competition and an evolving regulatory landscape are converging in a whirlwind of change impacting every facet of the profession. Accountants working in public accounting, industry or the nonprofit/academic sectors are all equally as impacted by these changes and trends. Successfully contending and navigating changes is difficult even when the changes are limited to certain areas, but when the changing effects are so far ranging, it can feel insurmountable. Clear­ly every organization is different and will operate in a unique manner, but contending with change is always a challenge. Not only do most individuals not like to change too much, or too fast, but the bureaucracy and structures of many organizations can actually hinder change initiatives and projects.

All of that said, the ability of organizations — and the individuals that comprise organi­zations — to change and evolve over time is a crucial factor to the continued success of the profession. The very changes that are making the most headlines, and that also cause the most anxiety within professional circles, are the very changes that are most important for the profession to embrace. Being able to embrace and thrive in changing environment is not only a requirement, but also represents key steps and processes that form the basis for continued professional development. In other words, for any CPA to continue to develop and grow as a professional, and be ready for new and intriguing opportunities, managing and embracing change is a must. 

Here are some guideposts for CPAs seeking to contend with the wide array of changes impacting the profession:

  1. Identify what will actually change. Buzzwords and hot topics are certainly not in short supply; blockchain, analytics, artificial intelligence and automation are mentioned in virtually every accounting conversation. What can sometimes get lost, however, is that these technologies are not always appli­cable to every firm or every process. A new software tool or management idea is only going to have value to the organi­zation if it solves a business problem. The ability to cut through the noise and pinpoint just what will actually change represents an excellent first step in change management.
  2. Obtain buy-in from colleagues and employees. Getting buy-in and support for the change project is an absolute must for any change initiative. One tangible step that can be taken to turn this idea into reality is explaining to employees how this change will impact them (linking back to point #1). Understandably, people get anxious if they feel their roles and tasks are going to change or be eliminated. Being proactive and assembling a path forward for impacted employees can go a long way toward making change easier on the individuals and the organization.
  3. Select a pilot area or project. Change initiatives or projects can be intimidating on the surface and can also wreak havoc if not implemented correctly. Every professional has at least one horror story of how a far-ranging change initiative, launched without proper testing and planning, led to all sorts of problems for employees. Selecting a pilot area, or data to beta test (and then analyze) is a better way to understand how exactly the proposed changes will impact the organi­zation. Even something as simple as pre/post comparisons can help illustrate just what changes are occurring as a result of the new technology tool or process.

Change is always a process, but whether that process is a positive or negative one is strongly influenced by how change is perceived and implemented inside the company. Taking proactive steps can help address some of the stresses and challenges that will inevitably arise whenever broad changes are attempted. With the sheer number of changes and forces impacting the profession, the ability to effectively manage change, and do so consistently, will create a competitive advantage for both individuals and companies. 


Sean D. Stein Smith

Sean D. Stein Smith

Sean Stein Smith is a professor at the City University of New York – Lehman College. Sean also is the chairperson of the NJCPA's Emerging Technologies Interest Group (#NJCPATech). He serves on the Advisory Board of the Wall Street Blockchain Alliance, where he co-chairs the Accounting Work Group. Sean is on the Advisory Board of Gilded, a TechStars ’19 company. He is also a Visiting Research Fellow at the American Institute of Economic Research.

More content by Sean D. Stein Smith:

This article appeared in the January/February 2020 issue of New Jersey CPA magazine. Read the full issue.