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Pushing that Boulder Up the Mountain

Transforming your practice in the face of internal opposition

It can be deflating confronting internal opposition when committing to making transformational changes inside of your practice. It’s like trying to push the proverbial boulder up the mountain.

That’s not the way we always do things.”

I’m too old to learn new tricks.

If it ain’t broke don’t fix it.”

Believe me, I’ve heard it all. It’s not that your partners and staff don’t want to improve the way that your firm operates. Everyone enjoys the benefits of higher productivity, revenue and profits. It’s just that getting there isn’t always so easy, especially in today’s age of instantaneous knowledge and communication capabilities.

I remember that 10 years ago, I decided to install a document-drafting platform rather than spend a crazy amount of man-hours updating our forms yearly. Key members of my team resisted. One quit. It wasn’t an easy transition. Today, however, if you asked any of my current team members to go back to the old way, even those who were resistant to the change back then, no one would want to.

In the past decade, the need for rapid change to the way that we practice intensified. In past columns, I’ve written how the commoditization trap affects our entire economy, including financial, accounting and law firms. Information and tools once only available to licensed professionals are now freely available to the general public via the Internet. Consequently, the traditional services that financial, accounting and legal firms provide isn’t viewed as valuable as it once was, with the availability of robo-financial advisors, online tax return or legal document preparation for a fraction of what your firm charges.

The way to overcome this trap is to provide value to the client, mainly through an educational experience, and to translate and apply your wisdom to each client’s individual situation. The same tools that commoditize parts of our practice can be used to achieve these goals. Online tools make it easy to produce and disseminate first-rate podcasts, videos, webinars and books that leverage your time, market your practice 24/7 and bring your client conversations to a higher level as you meaningfully convey base knowledge.

You must also create, build and install front stage and back stage systems that consistently provide a positive client experience that can’t be found anywhere else at any price. If you think of your practice as a theatre production, you can create the optimal client experience both from the client perspective and from behind the scenes.

Taking the time to think through the elements of these systems and implement them into your practice takes not only a commitment of time and financial resources, but also the courage to do so.

Embrace Change

And that’s where you find the internal opposition.

Change is difficult. Humans, by nature, like routine. When we know what to expect, our lives are easier, or at least they appear to be, but, in today’s marketplace, staying the course will likely result in the ultimate failure of your practice. Change is inevitable.

The initial internal opposition you must confront is your own. As the team leader, you can’t display a low level of commitment or courage since your trepidation and doubts will reverberate through the firm. Obviously, then, the first person that must buy in to the whole deal is you. This means doing your homework and taking the time to determine exactly which path is the best.

That’s where you encounter the naysayers and rock-throwers. Nothing is more frustrating or subversive to your commitment and courage than when those close to you resist. Part of this is the knee-jerk resistance to change. Another part is a lack of understanding as to the necessity of change in today’s marketplace.

Realize that not everyone may share your view that change is necessary. You may realize that nothing ever stays the same – situations either improve or decline. But your team might not share this view. It therefore behooves you to take the time to discuss your concerns and intentions with your business partners and your team. It might help to circulate topical books such as The Experience Economy by Pine and Gilmore, and Start with Why by Sinek, or listening to podcasts such as 10x Talk by Sullivan and Polish.

Communicate Clear Vision

Furthermore, you must communicate a clear vision of the path on which you would like to take your firm. That path may certainly change as you test out ideas to determine what works best with your A+ clients. Once you’ve accomplished this step, hopefully there is some level of buy in. You won’t achieve success without your team committing to a goal and the basic strategies to achieve those goals.

From experience, I’ll tell you that you won’t convince everyone. You’ll have to make choices, many of which will seem difficult. You may have to separate from your existing firm, or build a ‘practice within a practice’ if that’s possible. You may have to prune, reorganize or change team members, as you simply can’t afford to surround yourself with those who don’t share your vision. It will undermine your courage and inhibit your progress.

But don’t ignore what seems obvious. There are two types of pain–short-term pain and long term-pain. Which do you choose?

I’ll also tell you this: Once you start down the path and begin implementing the changes, you’ll see progress. You and your team members who embark on the journey together will find new capabilities and confidence, which will snowball into deeper commitments and greater change. Suddenly that boulder you pushed up to the summit gains momentum on its own. Your practice transforms, giving you and your team greater freedoms to do what you are truly good at and enjoy.

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