Renee Conner, CEO
July 26, 2017
Over the years, we have brought many TPA firms through an implementation process to adapt to our products. Though we would like to think that becoming a “PensionPro” is nothing but excitement, the truth is that some firms struggle to customize and implement our products. As a result, we carefully studied our implementation process and changed our methodology to better help our clients understand how to adopt our products in a way that best suits their firm’s goals. The pain of change isn't unique to implementing PensionPro. Your business’s changing processes can include anything from selecting a new compliance provider, to moving to the cloud or going paperless, and, yes, even implementing a workflow system. What enables a firm to successfully implement a change? The answer may surprise you.
As an industry, we tend to make long lasting decisions and stick with them until change is thrust upon us by some outside force (sort of like Newton’s Law of Inertia). That force can be anything from customer dissatisfaction to employee stress or errors, or even financial considerations. The fact is, that by personality profile, our industry does not like change. According to Myers Briggs, the typical accounting professional has a “Logistician” profile (Myers Briggs Logistician). Logisticians “seek stability and security, considering it their duty to maintain a smooth operation.” We aren’t out of touch or “old school” as some would say. On the contrary, the TPA community is full of life-long learners as our industry requires us to constantly further our education. For a TPA firm, change creates uncertainty. Uncertainty is not welcome in a process that requires the accurate (and timely) completion of a firm’s compliance services. What would be a logistician’s worst nightmare? The site Thought Catalog published an article, The Definition of Hell for Each Myers Briggs Personality Type, that suggests Hell for a Logistician would be a high level project with “absolutely no guidance.” For TPA firms, every plan is a high level project and any sort of change in the office can interrupt a process.
We know change is important for an organization because, without change, businesses tend to stagnate and lose their competitive edge. But saying that you embrace change does not make it easy, nor does it make it happen. Progression requires adaptation, and adaptation often includes some level of discomfort. So, knowing that we need change to remain viable, and knowing that it disrupts our routine cycle, how do we make it happen?
Identify your Change Agent(s)
One finding that stands out in our research (and has been proven time and again in our practice) is that firms with a dedicated implementation person, or team, seem to digest change the best. Expert on the subject and author of The Innovator’s Mindset, George Couros, published an article titled “5 Characteristics of a Change Agent” in which he laid out five personality traits exhibited by those “who act as a catalyst for change.” These change agents are people who greatly affect the speed and success of the implementation of any new process or product. According to George, change agents possess the following:
1. Clear vision
2. Are patient, yet persistent
3. Ask tough questions
4. Are knowledgeable and lead by example
5. Maintain strong relationships built on trust
The old saying is true, “A goal without a plan is just a wish!” In any project, a clearly defined goal is required for success. It is not enough to say, “Let’s go paperless!” The goal must have a defined scope and hierarchy of priorities. Is the entire office going paperless at once? Are you scanning everything in or starting from a certain date moving forward? Does the electronic file structure remain the same as your paper files? Is there a naming standard for saving these scanned records, an archiving date?
Patient, yet Persistent
Any change requires that the change agent(s) build a timeline that outlines the milestones toward achievement of the goal. Being patient may mean that the timeline flexes if deadlines are looming or an unexpected project comes into play. However, being persistent means that the project doesn’t fade away because it hits a bump in the road. A good change agent will always bring the project back into focus and continue on a revised timeline. If there is only one person tasked with your change project, and they are always focused on a perceived higher priority (deadlines!), then attaining your goal in a reasonable timeline will be difficult.
Ask Tough Questions
Often change requires more than one person – as it should. Perhaps the initial change agent came up with a brilliant idea to consolidate expense receipts but they need help deciding on a platform to do so. In this case, the end goal is a form of receipt tracking, but the first milestone will be deciding on a system or methodology to enact. During a transition of any sort, someone to ask the difficult, logistical questions is a necessity. A team of change agents might have a “driver,” who pushes the project forward, but the inclusion of a technician with expertise in the finer details shouldn’t be overlooked.
True or False: The person who has been with you the longest is the best person to implement change. Answer: False (well, sort of). The person who has been with the firm for many years is typically not a good change agent on their own. It’s hard to change when you have created most of the processes before you. But don’t overlook this person and dismiss them as “the stick in the mud.” Their abundant knowledge of all the ins and outs of a firm is priceless. Furthermore, their engagement can be pivotal to embracing firm wide change in place of creating an obstacle. It is also important not to exempt yourself from the changes you implement for the firm. Setting such an exclusion sends the message that the change was not important in the first place.
Strong Relationships - Adapting for Change
Setbacks occur in every transition. What is important in an agent of change is the ability to bounce back from, or roll with, the punches. Adapting throughout a transition requires a well-constructed team. While the entire team may not be implementing the change and the responsibilities may rest with one person, that person needs a team to understand the processes of the change. It is critical that everyone feels that they are heard and that the change benefits them. A client once said, “I’m a proponent of doing things with my people, not to them.”
Any business looking for the pace of change to slow is likely to be sorely disappointed – in this day and age, efficiency and instant results are expected. Therefore, businesses should embrace change. Empower your staff. There are change agents in every office, it is just a matter of understanding the scope of the goal and enabling those who are ready to make it happen.
Looking to understand your teams' dynamics? To take the 16 Personalities Test we featured in this article, click below:
Whether you are already a PensionPro user or looking to be the agent of change for your office, we are here to consult with you and the team. You can request a consultation or implementation assistance by filling out a form.