Why Change Management Is the Accountant’s Superpower

Gusto Editors

Did you know that accountants are exceptional at change management?

Many accountants view themselves as resistant to change, but in reality, you have to manage change every year. You have to address a wide variety of alterations to the tax code, and whether you realize it or not, your ability to adapt to mandatory tax practices has given you the skills you need to manage change. 

Gusto, along with our partners at CPA Academy, presented an informative webinar all about how accountants excel at change management. Our webinar titled “Change Management & Risk Taking: The Two Secret Superpowers of Every Accountant” detailed how you can use your change management experience to take risks and improve your abilities as an accountant. The presentation featured CPA-expert and Founder of Comedy CPE, Greg Kyte, and Gusto editor-at-large, Caleb Newquist

In addition to this article, Part One, you can read Part Two of this webinar article series to learn all about the benefits of taking risks as an accountant. You can also watch the entire webinar here

This article will inform you about why accountants are excellent at change management, accountants’ self-perceptions and resistance to non-mandatory changes, and the difference between regulatory and non-regulatory changes. 

Why accountants are great at change management

As different technological advancements and shifting industries force professions to adapt, it’s critical for individuals to practice change management. But what is change management? Change management means that you’re implementing structured changes to your organization. 

Accountants perform organizational change management exceptionally well because constant changes require accountants to adapt. Greg observed that people often view accountants as resistant to change, but in reality, change management is one of accounting’s greatest strengths: 

“The world views … accountants as being stodgy and resistant to change. I say we are the best at change because we deal with great volumes of change that other industries [don’t have to deal with].”

Greg Kyte

Accountants excel at change management because there are constant changes in the tax code. The tax code changes every year, meaning that accountants must adapt to perform their jobs correctly. Other professions don’t see nearly as many changes as the accounting profession. A single law can result in numerous tax changes, and collectively, there have been thousands of changes to the tax code in the last decade alone: 

The Affordable Care Act … changed the tax code. It was one law, but it had a whole bunch of changes to the tax code. … Conservatively, you can identify at least 4,000 changes to the tax code. 4,000 in 10 years means that there’s on average at least 400 changes to the tax code each year. … That’s so much [of] what we do [in accounting].”

Greg Kyte

A few of the numerous changes to the tax code in the last decade include shifts in tax brackets, increases in FICA, increases in capital gains, and reduction of certain tax credits. 

Rather than resist the required changes, accountants take on new challenges and proactively learn how to navigate changes to the tax code.

“We don’t sit here and go, ‘Why all these changes?’ We’re just used to it. We go, ‘Okay, what do I have to learn? How am I going to learn it? How are we going to adjust? How are we going to move on?'”

Greg Kyte

Accounting is a profession that faces constant change, and if you have accounting experience, you have had to pivot to meet the demands of the constantly shifting tax code. Whether you realize it or not, you’re already well equipped to handle potential changes to your industry because of your change management experience. 

Group of accountants reviewing changes to the tax code.

Accounting self-perceptions and resisting non-mandatory changes

Although accountants face yearly changes that require them to adapt and perform change management, many accountants view themselves with the incorrect perception that they’re resistant to change: 

“What’s interesting … is that this runs counter … [to] how accountants see themselves. We have this self-deprecating attitude that we’re resistant to change or that .. we’re stuck in our ways and that we can’t adapt.”

Caleb Newquist

One of the primary reasons accountants view themselves as resistant to change is because many struggle to adapt to non-compulsory changes. Accountants are great at adapting when there’s a change in the tax code, but they’re more resistant to non-mandatory changes:

“We have the superhuman ability to adapt to that change. … But there’s a caveat: We are amazing at adapting to change only if someone’s ramming it down our throat. … If it’s change that’s not required of us, it can be very slow.”

Greg Kyte

Greg used cloud accounting as an example of how accountants resist non-required changes. Although cloud accounting has been available to accountants for many years, many accountants are set in their traditional ways and haven’t moved to a paperless system. You might be exceptional at adapting your firm to mandatory changes, but it can be challenging to implement changes that are not required. 

Caleb noted that accountants sometimes make a psychological distinction between mandatory and non-mandatory changes. The psychological distinction affects their ability to initiate changes to their firms: 

“When the chips are down, having that superpower [of change management] comes in handy. … But not being able to do it when you want, like if you’re paralyzed to adapt to change when you don’t have to [adapt], then you’re probably okay with [not changing]. And that’s probably the psychological effect that prevents accountants from adopting cloud [accounting]. They are like, ‘Well, I am not being thrown off a cliff right now. So why would I fly?'”

Caleb Newquist

Do you have the ability to manage change within your firm even when it’s non-mandatory? As an accountant, one of your primary strengths is your ability to manage change, and you can improve your firm by developing the ability to implement non-required changes proactively. 

The difference between regulatory and non-regulatory changes

When learning about change management, you need to understand the two different types of change: regulatory and non-regulatory changes. Regulatory changes are mandatory changes to your industry. Within accounting, alterations in the tax code are regulatory changes. Non-regulatory changes are non-mandatory:

“[Non-regulatory changes are] not being forced on you. So non-regulatory change would also be self-imposed change. If you’re not being forced to change, you’re doing it yourself.”

Greg Kyte 

Non-regulatory changes are self-imposed because they’re not obligatory. When you implement self-imposed changes, you’re inherently taking a risk because you’re choosing to carry out new practices. With intentional risk-taking, you’ll often experience feelings of vulnerability:  

“If you’re changing, you were doing something one way, and … you’re [now] choosing to do it a different way. And that’s taking you into the unknown, and there is a certain amount of risk involved in making any [self-imposed] changes. … The outward expression of taking risks, even if you haven’t locked into the fact that you are taking a risk, is that feeling of vulnerability or exposure.”

Greg Kyte 
Young male accountant anxiously calculating his firm's revenue.

Intentional risk-taking often comes with feelings of insecurity and fear, but you can take risks and implement changes to improve your firm. Accountants have the potential to be great at introducing non-regulatory changes because they already have the skills to manage change effectively: 

“We’re amazing at regulatory change. And really, that means change is change. So we can be just as amazing at non-regulatory change, which also means [that] we’re amazing at intentional risk-taking. … The same skill set that makes us amazing at managing regulatory change is the same skill set we need to have to be amazing at intentional risk-taking. And you will benefit a lot if you figure out how to take the skills that we have [in regulatory change] and apply them over [to intentional risk taking].”

Greg Kyte

Whether or not you realize it, you have the potential to be exceptional at intentional risk-taking. You have had to adapt to regulatory changes every year, and with those changes, you gained the ability to excel at change management. You can use your change management skills to implement non-regulatory changes and benefit from intentional risk-taking. 

Learn more about change management

As an accountant, you have to deal with frequent changes in your profession. Although you may have the self-perception that you’re not skilled in making non-regulatory changes, you have the potential to implement self-imposed changes to your firm. You can use your change management superpower to take intentional risks to improve your firm and your accounting skills. 

If you’re ready to learn more about change management and why you should take risks, read Part Two of this webinar article series. You can also watch the full webinar here

Implementing change can be highly beneficial for your firm and your career. Consider signing up for Gusto to improve your ability to serve your clients and expand your firm. Gusto takes the hassle out of payroll and benefits, and we automatically file and send in payroll taxes for businesses with under 100 employees. With Gusto, you also gain access to health insurance and 401k integration, and we even provide HR experts. Learn more about how Gusto can help you improve your firm by visiting our Gusto for accountants page

Gusto Editors Gusto Editors, contributing authors on Gusto, provide actionable tips and expert advice on HR and payroll for successful business management.
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