Change is hard—there are no two ways about it.
As Director of Onboarding Programs at Practice Ignition, it’s my job to lead clients through change. Specifically, to help them successfully implement Practice Ignition within their organisation. Myself and our CSM team around the world work tirelessly to help practices manage change—so we’ve built up a fair degree of expertise about what this process involves.
For instance, we’ve learned that people are creatures of habit. We get used to certain systems, processes, and tools—so we shudder at the thought of suddenly having to ditch existing ways of working. If it ain’t broke don’t fix it, right?
Unfortunately, this attitude can actively hurt your practice. Your existing tools and systems might do the job just fine, but you don’t want to provide a service that’s just fine.
You want to astound clients, grow your practice, and become more efficient in the process. You’re therefore going to have to change with the times, implementing new tools that will improve your ways of working. To do this properly, however, you’ll first have to master how to effectively manage change. Fortunately, this is easier than you might think.
Let’s explore 7 simple steps that will help you seamlessly manage change within your practice.
1) Understand there’s never a “perfect time”
Perhaps you’re thinking, “We’re too busy! We couldn’t possibly implement another new solution.”
Annoyingly, there’s never a ‘perfect’ time to implement a change. Sure—you’d be well-advised not to revamp your entire operations during tax season, but if you’re waiting for the ideal moment, the perfect opportunity, then you’ll always be left waiting.
However, always keep the end goal in mind. Remember that you ultimately want your practice to be more efficient and to provide your clients with more value. Despite the short-term disruption, implementing innovative solutions will always be worthwhile over the long run.
That being said, there are a few key best practices to keep in mind.
First, schedule the change at a time when you’ll be in the office—if you’re supposed to be leading the project but have gone AWOL then of course you won’t gain team-wide buy-in.
Second, make sure that the change won’t adversely impact any high-value projects that desperately need to be completed. Whilst you’ll never be able to avoid all disruption, you can certainly make sure you avoid implementing large change projects at the worst time possible.
2) Bring your team on the journey with you
Nobody likes dictatorial leaders. The days of managers assuming a ‘command and control’ style of leadership has fortunately fallen by the wayside, with it largely being replaced by collaborative leaders who prioritise excellent communication above all else. I remember an old manager telling me “I don’t care if you understand why it’s happening, just do it”—and nothing has ever disengaged me from my work more.
Remember the following points when trying to get your team on board with any change projects.
Share the problem you’re looking to solve with the change
Before you begin, you’ll first have to communicate why you’re making the change—outlining the issues that your practice is facing, and explaining how this solution can help you solve these problems.
Show the value that the solution provides
You then have to go one step further, promising your team that a better future awaits after this initial short-term disruption. After all, nobody wants to have to relearn a process that they can already do in their sleep.
Support them every step of the way
Be open to discussion. Don’t simply make a change without consulting your team first, or without being willing to engage in a genuine, honest, back and forth dialogue. The rationale for implementing this new solution might be clear as day for you. But for your team, may very well not be—so have patience and understand that you cannot simply make wholesale changes without their support.
Once the change is underway, you need to regularly check in with your colleagues. Ask them what they’re struggling with as things stand and if possible, provide them with solutions—if not, signpost where they might be able to seek help. Understand that productivity might dip in the short term while they get used to how the tool works.
Don’t expect the world straight away. No large-scale changes are free from disruption. By regularly taking the pulse of your team, however, you’re showing that you truly care. More than that, by offering help if needed, you’re demonstrating that you’ve got their back during tough times.
3) Clearly define roles, responsibilities, and expectations
There’s nothing worse than a poor manager. But what exactly makes a good manager?
Being ‘personable’ and a great communicator are obviously fantastic attributes, but the most important thing is that a manager can get the best out of their team.
This is why it’s so important that you clearly define roles, responsibilities, and expectations.
Imagine you’re thinking about implementing a new practice management software. You might ask one fairly junior employee to carry out some desk research and schedule demos. When trying the tools out, it’s probably a good idea to enlist the help of your more senior colleagues—they’ll have a better idea about what your practice actually needs to continue doing a great job.
So who should take charge of onboarding?
Well, ideally, somebody from your new software provider. They’ll have a ton of experience setting up their software within a range of different practices—so they’ll be well-versed in integrations with different tools, common hurdles that firms encounter, and how to sidestep these issues. This also means that your team can focus on its day job. There’ll be no dip in productivity while key employees spend hours on end trying to implement the new tool and get it up and running.
However, there’s a key point to note here—you must trust the external onboarding expert to do their job. They ultimately know the ins and the outs of the process better than you do, and their job will be so much quicker, easier, and more effective if you empower them to just get on with it.
If you do want to maintain a sense of control over proceedings then just make sure that you’re involved in any decision-making conversations. This will play a key role in getting the project over the line as quickly as possible, removing the roadblocks that occur with lengthy, complex approval processes.
4) Break the project up into manageable pieces
We’ve all heard the phrase, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step”. That’s why it’s crucial that you break up large, practice-wide projects into manageable chunks. “Implementing a new tool” might seem daunting—it’s a lengthy process that requires a series of small steps.
But when you break it up it suddenly seems more manageable. Can you contact a provider to schedule a demo? Of course. How about arranging a date when the provider’s onboarding team can get to work and set everything up? Easy peasy. Scheduling a few hours here and there for product training? Great—no problem.
People who are training to run a marathon don’t just go out one day and try to run 26 miles. Instead, they get used to running 5, 10, 15, and then 20 miles—they take on the process bit by bit. Likewise, you shouldn’t think of a large change as being one massive project. Break it up into bite-sized pieces and you’ll find that it’s really not so scary after all.
5) Always stay focused on the final destination
You might run into roadblocks. Perhaps you picked a tool specifically due to its wide range of integrations, but for whatever reason, these aren’t working as they should. Maybe your team is quickly becoming fed up with the new tool and has asked you whether they could just revert back to the system they’re used to.
Maybe you even make a mistake and have a client question your approach. During times like these, it’d be easy to retreat back into your shell and quickly drop the project—especially if clients are beginning to be affected by this disruption. Teething problems are normal so they should be expected. However, they shouldn’t be major causes for concern—your clients also makes changes to improve their businesses and go through this.
Always keep in mind the final destination that you’re working towards (i.e. greater efficiency, practice-wide visibility, or an improved payments process), and work diligently to achieve your end goals.
6) Drive internal urgency
The longer a project is in the works, the more people’s faith in it begins to wane. We’ve all worked on projects that have faced endless delays, hitches, hurdles, bumps in the road, and so on.
Eventually, you just begin to question why you’re even doing it in the first place. Morale drops and the entire team seems burdened—rather than bolstered—by the project.
At times like these, it’s hard to get the team to finish the project—let alone get them excited enough to care about what this change means for your practice.
This is why urgency is so crucial. You want the projects to take as little time as possible and to be as seamless as possible—this is a given. Focus your efforts on swiftly picking, implementing, and using the tool and use your position to remove or flatten any roadblocks that may impede this urgency.
The sooner your project is complete, the sooner you’ll begin to benefit from its value.
7) Work closely with your providers’ onboarding teams
Your existing ways of working might not be the best—in fact, they might leave a lot to be desired. But they do have one major advantage: your team is used to them.
Fortunately, the best software providers understand that change is hard, so they have their own in-house implementation teams to help companies ease some of the pain. This is a major lifeline. Your team can focus on its core business activities while you, or one of your colleagues, liaises with the provider’s implementation team.
If you ever run into any problems, you don’t have to brainstorm solutions with the rest of your team while key client work falls by the wayside.
Instead, you can operate as normally as possible while using the provider’s expertise to get you fully set up and ready to go.
It’s time to make a change
Change is hard, particularly for decision-makers. You might have to face some umming and ahhing from bemused colleagues who simply don’t want to have to learn a brand new process.
But change is an inevitable part of life—and it’s certainly a key part of running a successful business. In the long term, making the right changes can save you time, money, and resources. You have to stand strong and keep the wheels turning.
The first step is simply to decide that you’re going to make a change.