Managing Change in the World of Finance and Accounting

By Robert Half February 21, 2017 at 4:30pm

You’ve heard it before: Change is the only constant. The sentiment seems more relevant now than ever these days in the world of finance and accounting. New rules, regulations, tax codes and technology come around so often now, it probably seems like your team is continuously managing change and adjusting to a new normal. It’s essential for your organization to adapt quickly to keep up.

But you’ve probably also heard another old saying: Change isn’t easy. When your employees must make shifts in the way they do their jobs — from the internal policies, procedures and reporting structures they follow, to responsibilities they take on, to new regulations they must observe — they can get frustrated and discouraged. And you know what that means: Productivity suffers.

Employee productivity can also take a big hit when there's a change in management, a Robert Half survey shows. See the infographic below.  

What change management strategies can company leaders use to build high-performance finance teams who can adapt smoothly and effectively to new work realities? Yes, that’s a mouthful, but read on for seven solid suggestions for managing change:

1. Create a culture where change is expected

It's never simple to adapt to new things. It’s even harder if your employees are set in their ways, expecting their career will stay the same forever. On the other hand, if your staff understands that change is simply a part of working for your organization, they’ll be more likely to accept any new processes or policies as a matter of course.

So when you interview job candidates with your company culture in mind, assess their attitude toward shifts at work. Make it clear during the hiring process that everyone working for your organization will be expected to adjust to new responsibilities and processes from time to time. Then reinforce the notion in your mission and vision statements, during staff meetings, and any other regular communication you have with staff.

2. Make sure you’re ready

It’s always easier to adjust to new rules and regulations when you're prepared. One thing you can do to set the stage for coming change (even if you aren’t positive what it will be) is to leverage big data to enhance the firm’s organizational forecasting and planning. You can also prepare by ensuring your employees keep their skills up-to-date with frequent training and professional development. And if haven’t already, begin to build strong partnerships between the finance team and functions that finance supports. All of these efforts will go a long way when your staff must adapt to change.

3. Develop methodology for managing change

Adopt a consistent and defined approach to change management. Maintaining a formal approach to shifts in processes means that people know what to expect when change occurs, therefore, cutting down on the potential for chaos. Your change management method doesn’t have to be rigid, however. In fact, it should be flexible enough for your staff to identify any issues with the transformed processes and address them as needed. If your organization has a methodology in place, be sure to use it; if not, consider developing one yourself.

4. Maintain open, honest, timely communication

Try to tell your employees as soon as possible about any workplace change; otherwise, there’s a good chance that inaccurate information will start to circulate. When you introduce the shift, clearly explain the reasons for it and what your new expectations are. Then, throughout the roll-out, make sure you’re frequently updating your staff about everything that’s happening. If something goes wrong, or if things are changing in a negative way, don’t try to spin it as a positive. Your employees will see through it and won’t trust you. Simply state the facts and acknowledge that things aren't going to be great for a while. Then let your staff know that you’re always available to answer questions and take suggestions.

5. Involve your staff before implementing the change

When you solicit your employees’ input on how to carry out a significant organizational shift, the actual implementation tends to go more smoothly. Provide training early on, and host online forums, conference calls and face-to-face meetings to allow your employees to ask questions and voice their concerns. Do your best to address those concerns, paying special attention to the employees whose jobs are changing the most.

6. When change happens, make sure you’re involved  

Employees are more likely to buy into a new procedure when they see that management is totally on board and participates in implementing it. Make sure you’ve assigned responsibility for guiding the new procedures to someone with experience in change management, and, if appropriate, give that person a committee of creative, decisive and collaborative people to assist with the roll-out. In addition, provide positive and motivational leadership by checking in frequently to see how your staff is adapting to the shift. Spend extra time with the managers of staff who will feel the impact the strongest: Prepare them to lead with training and coaching, and conduct frequent meetings with them to assess how things are going and make adjustments as needed.

7. Be patient with your employees

Everyone adapts to change at a different pace. Some people manage the modifications and disruption in a matter of days and quickly embrace the new normal. Others, however, take a little while to get used to shifts in the workplace. As your staff is adjusting to how the change will affect them personally — whether they’re reporting to someone new or seeing a shift in their day-to-day duties — you should expect them to be less productive. Be patient and give them some time to adapt.

Remember, by the time you roll out a change to your staff, you’ve already been thinking about it and processing it for a while. In essence, you’ve had a head start. Now you have to wait for your employees to catch up.

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