The first ‘run’ of Making Tax Digital for VAT clients are being processed in the UK. Some will be on cloud-based bookkeeping and MTD solutions that (hopefully) create a smooth path towards filing. This concept applies to any firm anywhere in the world where there is a need for regular filings of sales or tax returns.
Others, however, will literally be bridging the gap between going onto the cloud versus sticking with non-automated and non-cloud processes. As ICAEW Tax faculty manager Caroline Miskin previously told us: “I don’t think a spreadsheet option is future-proof.”
So, how do practices deal with getting the more stubborn and intransigent clients – and staff – on board with the newer and slicker way of doing things?
Drive a cultural shift
Peter Gillman is the former executive chairman and MD of Price Bailey – serving at a time when it developed and grew into a top-30 UK firm. For him, the buy-in phase is the “opening gambit”, where strategic direction is set out and then months may pass as the firm’s key players are brought on board.
“You will always get a range of views, but you create a strategy broadly in line with what you want to achieve,” he explains.
Harwood Hutton managing partner John Brace believes that practice leaders will involve people in change, but often too late in the process and without getting them ‘onside’. “Change does indeed involve people and the key is to communicate plans in advance,” he says. “The challenge is to get team buy-in to change.”
The future strategy is then broadened to outline what it involves in terms of change – but you must still allow contributions from a wide set of team members. The roadmap also acts as a backstop, a governance tool for the leadership.
Once the direction is set at senior level, then further meetings with other staff are convened to spread the message.
Once the practice’s team members understand its direction of travel, you must keep a broad cross-section involved in implementation of any new systems or processes, says Bobby Lane, head of outsourcing at Shelley Stock Hutter.
Don’t forget: Good change management is not about the five people that are immediately or easily on your side – it’s how you persuade the one who is against the change. Firstly you must understand exactly why that person is against the process. Secondly, persuade those in favour of the project to help spread the message about the benefits of change.
Onboarding relevant staff
Those last involved in practice change can often be those undertaking the new processes. And when you involve staff that understand their role and ‘place’, the likelihood of change will irritate and concern them. The focus should be on refocusing your staff rather than replacing them.
Working groups are key to implementations, representing all skill levels and departments. And practices must speed up their change, he believes: “We’re in a transitional period within the profession at the moment. Look at cloud-based technology and the automation of processes, for example.”
Those in your practice delivering the service are vital in helping you understand how that process currently works.
Next to consider is education. Who will be the pathfinders and innovators in your team, and clients as well, that will trial the new system or process? It would be nice to have IT managers and project leaders to coordinate and report back to a key board director about the implementation’s progress. In reality, smaller practices will likely need several team members to ‘step up’ and add to their responsibilities to drive the change through. Thankfully, smaller practices are less encumbered by multiple systems and processes.
It’s good governance to split the implementing responsibility away from the person in charge of the service line or department. “Allow someone a layer above that with a critical eye,” says ICAEW technical manager Mark Taylor.
At AdvanceTrack we see great similarity in adoption of our offshoring/outsourcing solutions and the challenges of getting team members to recognise how these change their role. Persuasion and adoption go hand in hand where it can be demonstrated to normally intelligent team members how their role can change following the adoption of any new process or software.
How the client wants to be managed must also be considered, suggests ACCA head of advisory Glenn Collins. The premise of improving systems and processes to access more useful data, and leveraging that to provide clients with a better service does not necessarily mean the client wants everything to change.
“For example, some ‘digital’ practices still have a face-to-face element to them for some clients,” he says. You can still use the improved information you’ve collated to present a better service – and ultimately higher fees.
Recent studies have suggested that maintaining communication on the benefits of moving to the cloud will improve sentiment for change. This puts you in a position to use this information as part of your marketing arsenal – you can even work with early-adopting cloud clients as ambassadors for change. And an ambassador could involve many things: Whether it is them providing you with a case study, or even speaking at events where they can help talk to clients that still require more persuasion.
ROI will be based on metrics, so it’s important to figure out what they are. These measures could include client service improvement. Ultimately, some will be quantitative and involve dialogue with staff and clients. Look for relatable and reliable process improvements.
Being able to demonstrate improvement in clients’ performance by keeping better records (and you then being able to provide more valuable advice) is again evidence you can share with those unwilling to make the move – be they clients or staff members.
Find out more…
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