Disciplined. Compliant. Orderly. Methodical. Those are the driving personality characteristics of most left-brained accountants that I know. Doing things the right way. Debits equal credits. There is a natural order to accounting, and that has tended to attract many similar-thinking people to the profession.
It also has created a profession filled with practitioners who are, at their core, fundamentally resistant to change. Any leader who has undertaken a change effort has encountered this group – not on board at best, actively resistant at worst. “Why do we need to change, everything has been going well so far, so why fool with success,” is the cry most often heard from the group.
In the past, shaking up the status quo even once a decade was a painful process for this group. Dominic Barton, CEO of global consulting giant McKinsey, recently told The Australian Financial Review in an interview that large companies will need to massively restructure to the point that they will “expect an earthquake every three years.”
With high partner compensation numbers, there’s a tangible lifestyle measurement at risk. After all, there have been calls for change before, the profession has made small, incremental adjustments to its trajectory, and “we’re doing just fine as we are, thank you.”
But this time it’s different. This time, the pace is lightning fast. The image that comes to mind is my own experience of skydiving for the first time. Door open, a white-knuckled grip on the doorframe, feet firmly on a small step. As the instructor encouraged me to “climb out,” I warily slid one hand on to the wing strut. “Keep going” the instructor urged…“Keep going – I’ll talk you through it.” As I finally lifted my feet off the step, the realization that I was no longer tethered to the safety of the plane, hit me. “LET GO!” the instructor bellowed, and I let go.
As I watched the plane fly away, my heart stopped for a moment until I heard the whoosh of a parachute opening above my head. And then silence. Beauty all around me. A feeling of genuine exhilaration. As I glided down to Earth, I felt an accomplishment and satisfaction. My final thought was “I jumped out of a plane and landed safely on the ground.”
For those leading the change, recognize that you are flying the plane filled with some white-knuckled staff and partners who are perfectly comfortable inside the safety of the plane. Never underestimate the significance of encouragement to get your group to sit in an open doorway with feet hanging out at 10,000 feet above the ground; to be the voice of “keep going,” “keep going,” “keep going.”
Understand how critical it is to them to hear your calm and confident instructions to “now LET GO!” As you talk them through their maiden flight and land them safely, they will gain the courage and the confidence to go back up in the plane again – if McKinsey is right – another three years from now as you continue to create an organization whose core competency is the ability to adapt to change.