The Change We Can Control
Nov. 17, 2019
“Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.” ~ Leo Tolstoy
In the accounting world these days, we are inundated with news about change, innovation, disruption, or whatever else you want to call it. Terminology aside, the bottom line is that our jobs our changing at an ever-increasing rate. We know that compliance accounting could become completely automated in a few years, making advisory services an increasingly essential component of adding value to clients’ lives. We hear that blockchain has the potential to revolutionize whole swathes of accounting, from the audit process to double-entry itself. Some people even suppose that there may come a time when accounting as we know it becomes obsolete.
The worst part? We’re basically powerless to control these changes. Sure, we can prepare for incoming changes by watching what’s happening at Big Four firms and watching the horizon for trends, but attempting to stop technological change is like trying to put out a wildfire with a squirt gun. However, there is a type of change we can control. When it comes to our attitudes and behaviors, we have tremendous agency over what the future looks like. That’s not say self-reflection and adaptation are easy, far from it, but they’re much more malleable than the winds of professional change.
A Question of Perspective
I recently sat down with Jeff Thomson, President and CEO of the Institute of Management Accountants, for an episode of my Breaking Beliefs podcast. We discussed the nature of change in our profession and how people often dwell on what they can’t control rather than what they can. “As human beings, we tend to sometimes make excuses that change is not within our control,” he said. “There are environmental factors, there’s robotics, there’s a family member who I can’t manage or control. I tend to think that there’s more under our control than we can even imagine.”
In other words, focusing on what we can’t change actively limits us from controlling what we can. When you engage in fool’s errand after fool’s errand, it’s easy to get discouraged. After a while, you can begin to think that your powerless to create any change whatsoever. Only when we begin by first asking ourselves what we have dominion over, what we have the ability to modify, that we can begin to reap the rewards of attempting to evolve.
Starting From Within
If you want to thrive in a future-facing environment, the first thing to work on is your attitude toward innovation. Being obstinate in the face of technological evolution makes embracing change impossible. After all, nobody ever improved by sticking their head in the sand. You have to be willing to learn new things all the time. There is no point in your career when you can sit back and say, “I’ve learned enough.” You may have been able to get away with that attitude 50 years ago, but it certainly won’t fly today.
Embracing change involves experimentation and trial-and-error. You have to be willing to analyze changes you make—whether in terms of systems, technology, processes, or anything else—and assess their effectiveness. Otherwise, you’ll fall prey to what Thomson calls “change for change’s sake.” “It’s important to keep the end in mind,” he said. If your changes aren’t demonstrably affecting your organization for the better, then they’re just ceremonial. Real change produces results.
The Ripple Effect
When you begin to not only accept but encourage innovation in your workplace, it’s easy for it to become contagious—in a good way. “The best leaders begin with an environment that embraces and rewards change and innovation,” says Lynne Doughtie, the chairman and CEO of KPMG US.
There’s nothing about good accounting that works on a set-it-and-forget-it methodology. That’s never been the case, and it will never be the case. The nature of our jobs can change all they like. As long as we’re willing to change ourselves and our work habits in kind, the future looks mighty bright.
See inside November 2019
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