Do you want to know how to lead an effective change management plan for your advisory clients? The process of technological change can be daunting for any company. To be a great advisor, you’ll need a strong strategy, a step-by-step approach, and the ability to lead.
Gusto is here to help your accounting practice prepare for the future. As always, we’re thrilled to partner with CPA Academy to cover the role of technology in accounting. The webinar “How to Minimize Tech Stack Disruptions to Your Clients and Your Firm” featured CPA veteran Martin Kamenski. He covered why it’s essential to over-communicate in advisory, why you need a great implementation team, and more.
Martin Kamenski is an expert CPA specializing in the creative and entertainment niches. He’s proud to help writers, fashion designers, musicians, creative agencies, restaurateurs, and more with their accounting needs. The associates in his accounting practice, Revel CPA, have a down-to-earth, friendly approach to client relationships, which greatly contributes to their success.
Your role as a trusted advisor
Being an advisor means having an approach that’s responsible, empathetic, and truly helpful. As with any supportive role, your first step should be putting yourself into the mind of your clients. Think about how you feel when you’re propositioned with something you’re not sure you need and that might involve work and stress above what you already have. What would you be thinking? What would you want or need to hear in order to consider the proposition?
“They’re probably thinking, ‘Great. Here’s one more system that I have to learn, one more thing I need a login for that I need to save somewhere. We finally just got around to documenting all of our systems, and now you want me to go back and create a whole new update to it? What about our old system? What is the migration process like? Are we going to lose data? Is it going to be condensed, and we lose the fidelity of the information?’”– Martin Kamenski
Your clients will have a lot of questions running through their minds, and these are most likely going to be focused on the negative. In the initial stages of your relationship, you’ll need to overcome skepticism and use tact if you want to be received well.
You’ll be more positively received, however, if you’re confident in what you’re offering. The way you build confidence in what you’re offering is by knowing the value of what you bring and, importantly, having a well-thought-out process for how you provide services.
That’s why it’s important that you follow a three-step process of assessment, preparation, and execution. Within all three steps, you’ll want to be crystal clear about the fact that you are working with your clients over time, that you are reliable and trustworthy, and that you are there to give precise solutions that will positively impact your client’s organization.
To begin with, the assessment phase will involve asking the right questions and getting the right information to make informed suggestions.
“You cannot make the same blanket recommendation for everyone across the board. You need to understand what is going on in that organization with that client specifically in order to make sure that you’re making valuable recommendations to them and that you’re tailoring the rest of your steps appropriately.”– Martin Kamenski
The preparation phase will consist of both the large and small actions you take, from short phone calls to action steps to group meetings. Take the time to prepare and plan for all of them.
“We don’t go into this thing winging it. We don’t show up to calls without a plan. You have a clear, defined process for how this works.”– Martin Kamenski
In the execution phase, you will be delivering results and fine-tuning them. You’re not just suggesting a change, setting up, and then moving on. You want to provide ongoing support. This is the kind of advice that will bring true value to your clients and build long-term relationships.
Assessment of a payroll solution
To give a more detailed view of this three-step process, Martin used migrating to a new payroll solution as an example. Let’s say your goal is to assist a client with finding a new payroll platform that makes running their business easier. Before you can find the right solution for them, you’ll need to take stock of their organization.
You’ll ask yourself questions like:
- How many people are on their team?
- What’s the size of the business overall in terms of revenue?
- What payroll solutions are suitable for a business of this size?
- What are their industry-specific needs?
When it comes to payroll, you’ll need to consider the types of employees they have and what types of pay structure they are on. Whether it’s commissions, equity-based, tips, full-time, hourly, or independent contractors, find out all the aspects of compensation that show up in the organization.
“I could tell you, from experience dealing in creative and entertainment spaces, there are certainly industry-specific payroll needs [that come up] when you get into things like shooting a movie or recording a TV commercial. So what are the industry-specific needs that your client has? And will the payroll system that you’re looking at address that? Maybe it’s union-related. “How are they going to pay people? Is everyone on their team hourly? Is everyone on their team salary? Or maybe it’s a mix.”– Martin Kamenski
You’ll also want to look at their benefits needs. Do they offer retirement? Healthcare? How about commuter benefits, HSAs, or charitable contribution matches? Don’t just talk to one person. Try to ask questions from people at multiple levels and really get a sense of what’s needed or expected. The questions will be obvious—it’s more about time and effort than anything else.
“I want you to get that these things are not difficult. You know this, but it’s literally just a matter of taking the time to ask all the questions [and] help the client feel held through this process. That is what it looks like to take this role of being a trusted advisor.”– Martin Kamenski
Lastly, you’ll need to look at the integrations they’ll need if any. In this example, payroll data will need to integrate with benefits data and other tools and technology.
Preparation for a payroll solution
Martin broke down preparation into three parts: normalizing change, getting a sponsor, and communication. Let’s take a look at the first one.
Having the right mindset is crucial to making the process of change smooth and successful. Before jumping into a solution, take the time to show your clients how change is both normal and positive. The way that you present things is important. Approach things from a problem-solving, collaborative, and optimistic point of view. Change brings opportunities. It’s also an inevitable fact of life, whether in business or in any other area of life.
You’ll be able to do this more effectively, of course, if you consider how you’re being asked to change. So how can you look at change differently?
In these planning phases where you’re preparing your client for what’s to come, consider how you frame things.
“I want you to put it in a way that helps them think of this as part of an ongoing process and strength that they’re building as an organization. Help them to think, ‘We’re going to get really good at change, and it’s going to give us a leg up against the competition, and we’re taking this change as an opportunity to demonstrate what that looks like. So we’re going to get excited about this. We’re going to learn together. We’re going to take anything we did wrong this time and fix it for the next time. But we’re going to become really good at adapting as an organization.’”– Martin Kamenski
You can talk to them about big companies, like Disney+ (which Martin pointed out had to compete with Netflix), who embraced change and succeeded because of it.
“Some of what I just know about [Disney] is that they value and promote and talk about play[ing], adapting, trying, and failing. These are all aspects of a company culture that … go hand in hand with a healthy relationship to change.”– Martin Kamenski
What would that look like for your clients? You might guide them to consider that not every solution needs to be perfect from the get-go. You could normalize mistakes, knowing that one wrong move doesn’t spell long-term disaster. Guide them to look at the bigger picture instead of the small details.
The next aspect of preparation is to partner with someone in the organization—the more senior, the better—who gets what you’re trying to do and believes in it. This person can champion the cause, help set everyone up for success, and build trust in the initiative.
Martin pointed out that while you want someone who is at a high level of leadership, you don’t want this person to just be the one who hired you. Let’s say you are hired by the CEO of a company, and you work with them more than anyone else. You talk to them regularly, you’ve built great trust, and one day you make your suggestion. If the two of you make that decision and then suddenly bring that up to the team, it’s not likely to go down well. It will come as a surprise, and that can cause conflict, a lack of motivation, and an unsuccessful integration. You need an advocate on the team—and more than one if possible.
“You want to find a sponsor, maybe more than one. The more, the better, and certainly the more senior, the better, because buy-in from a key team leader more than doubles the odds of a successful migration. This is not just something I like to say because it sounds good. This was a statistical result from a study. … It more than doubled the odds of a successful migration from one software tool to another when they had a great buy-in and support from a senior leader on the team who is there to say, ‘You know what? Folks, we got to do this. I know you might be thinking whatever you’re thinking, but trust me, this is worth it.’”– Martin Kamenski
When it comes to this aspect of planning, you’re going to want to overdo it. Be crystal clear in all of your communications. Tell your client what you’re going to do, what you’re doing, and then what you did. That means you’re going over something three times at least.
Additionally, frame all communications from the perspective of the value you’re bringing to your client.
“Any communication you design and develop with your client that’s going to go out to their team [should not be from] the perspective of you, the owner, or the leader of their organization. It needs to be from the mindset and in the perspective of the team. Just believe me when I tell you, the last thing they want to hear is how this makes your job easier. Nobody cares in that organization that this is going to save you some time.”– Martin Kamenski
Lastly, remember that communication does not stop once a project is complete. You want to stress that you’ll be available for ongoing support, and then you’ll need to follow through on that.
“You can’t just drop a change on an organization and then walk away not having any curiosity about whether or not it stuck, whether or not they’re succeeding or failing, what questions do they have, what support they need. You, as the advisor who’s helping them through this process, ought to plan to be there to support, to answer questions for them, show them how you’ve gone through situations like this.”– Martin Kamenski
Execution of a payroll solution
The last part of the process is execution, which is all about leadership. You should have a solution and a detailed plan. Now it’s time to lead your client through the process, step by step.
“Leadership is essentially the idea of taking a group of people and helping them see the challenges and struggles with where they are today. If you think about moving a group of people physically from one space to another … you have to first explain to them what’s wrong with staying right where [they] are. … You have to help them see the things that are challenging about what their current state is, then you have to describe the place that they’re going to go. What does it look like over there?”– Martin Kamenski
In the example of payroll, you’d follow a step-by-step approach for rolling it out. If they’re moving into an organization like Gusto, which has a team of people completely focused on migrations, then you would rely on that resource. So, identify the step-by-step specifics and a change management plan tailored to their organization, and know who your resources are for things that are beyond your expertise.
“Leverage those resources. Take advantage of folks like [Gusto’s migration team] who can help you and help your clients in a really professional way.”– Martin Kamenski
Another great way to lead your clients is to help with the initial setup. When you migrate them to a new platform, fill in their name, address, and tax ID number. Upload any documents that should be on there, such as a copy of their EIN letter. Set up entities and entity structure, legal structure, payroll schedules, number of employees, and any other details that you can. This makes the process that much easier for your clients.
“It’s like letting them walk into a home that’s already been furnished. It’s a lot more inviting than walking into an empty box where now they feel like, ‘Oh, well now I guess I have a lot of work I need to do right off the bat.’ No, just take a moment, build that out for your client, and they’ll appreciate it greatly.”– Martin Kamenski
Finally, take the time to train your clients in their new platform. Help them feel confident in the changes and in you. That’s your role as an advisor.
Learn more about how to advise your clients during technological changes
Advisory means approaching your clients with empathy and a sense of responsibility. How can you provide value beyond the current moment and help set your clients up for long-term success? To help your clients confidently, use a three-step process for advising your clients: assessment, preparation, and execution. Ask the right questions during the assessment phase, be clear and precise in your preparation, and harness your leadership skills during execution. Always address things from the client’s perspective, and consider how you’d feel in their shoes.
Gusto’s mission is to create a world that empowers a better life. We’re thrilled to help you succeed as a conscious advisor in the new age of accounting. Don’t forget to check out our other two articles based on the same webinar: “How to Embrace Technological Changes in the Accounting Profession” and “Navigating Technological Changes in Your Accounting Firm.”
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