To Switch or not to Switch … That is the (Scary) Question

Practice Management Three serious-looking businesspeople having a meeting at work

I attend a lot of trade shows and conferences where I get to meet tax preparers, accountants and small business consultants. At these gatherings, I get to talk nerdy tax and accounting stuff all day long … and sometimes into the night, with discussions that often focus on switching software.

Where do you start and how do you decide what to do? Most importantly, how do you get everyone on board to make the switch or add the software?

First, a story. I am working with a CPA firm in New York, a small firm that is transitioning from a server-based general ledger product into the QuickBooks® product family. They brought me in to train them and help them transition clients. Although the firm uses an Intuit® tax product for their individual returns, they don’t use a tax product for their business returns; instead, they use a competitor’s product. I suggested that they consider making the change to Intuit.

With the question, “How easy would it be to map the chart of accounts in QuickBooks and have the information import into the tax return?,” here’s what they told me: they could buy a trial balance program so that they could still use their old program.

Why??? Because they’re really familiar with the old one. They don’t want to change. They see the value, but aren’t sure they want to make the step.

However, the owner of the firm is open to new ideas; after all, she’s the visionary that started the QuickBooks transition process. After thinking about it, she told me that she is willing to give it a try. I give her a lot of credit for transitioning her clients to QuickBooks. It’s a scary move. The great thing about her is that she’s willing to train her staff, and I’m seeing that now with the transition. Although some of her staff was skeptical when we started, they’re all getting excited about the eventual outcome.

Does this story sound familiar? Many times, the people asking whether they should change software are the ones who want the change. They understand the inefficiencies, the pain and the need for change, but what they don’t know how to do is implement the change. One thing I do know is that accountants don’t like change. I am one, so I can say that.

I haven’t seen any statistics, but I just know I’m right. Way back, we resisted moving from our big black ledger books to the computer. We were the last to move from DOS to Windows. We are typically not the early adopters for moving to the cloud. How about cell phones? How many still have a flip phone and are proud of it? Why are we like this?

I found some research done on the personality types of people who become accountants, and it’s no surprise that we share some common characteristics. In an article entitled “The Personality Types of People Who Become Accountants,” Scott Thompson says that, based on the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator questionnaire study, 42 percent of all accounting students fit into two types – so out of 16 types of personalities, the two types have a lot in common.

Both types include sensing, thinking and judging, but the difference between the two types has more to do with being introverted or extroverted. Bottom line? We tend to be practical, logical and rely on facts rather than intuition. I then looked up the criterion and found this article that says, “Judging means that a person organizes all of his life events and, as a rule, sticks to his plans.”

After reading this, I thought to myself that this is the criterion that may paralyze us and keep us from changing, even if the change is for our own good.

How do we adopt change? How do we address our fears about changing software?

The most important thing is to get all the principal players involved. When we feel that we’re part of a team and part of the decision-making process, we’re more likely to accept the change. Sit down and complete a needs assessment with each person individually. Let the person know that it is a confidential conversation, so that they feel free to speak about their pain points without fear of consequences. Ask these questions:

  • What are you doing now?
  • What do you like about it?
  • What do you NOT like?
  • What features are “must-have” features?
  • What are some of your “would like to have” features?
  • Are you using additional software (or paper) to manage the workflow?
  • If you could design the perfect workflow, what would it be like?
  • How do you feel about changing?
  • What do you think will help make the transition go smoothly?

Make sure you listen to their answers. Listen not only to the words, but also the emotions behind the words. The resistance to change is a compilation of the fears of all that can go wrong with changing software. What are the fears? I know what I fear, and it includes the following:

  • Do I really want to learn a new program?
  • What if I can’t learn it?
  • Who is going to train me?
  • Will someone check my work for mistakes?
  • How is the information going to get transferred?
  • What is the time line? Will I have a chance to test the new program?
  • How much time is it going to take? Will I still be able to get my job done and learn the new software?
  • Will I have to work longer hours?
  • How do I get ongoing support?
  • Do we have a project plan? (I’m concrete – I want to see it in writing)

Based on these conversations, I think you’ll get a good sense about what the obstacles are, and from there, you can develop a project plan. Make sure to communicate with your team about the process. You need to address the fears so that they feel comfortable, maybe even enthusiastic, about moving forward.

That was a long answer to the question, “Should I switch to new software?” If the new software will solve problems and make you more productive and efficient, the answer is “yes.” However, you need to make sure you listen to your team and address their fears and concerns.