How to manage change in a turbulent time

Climate change. Technology. Trump. The world changes so fast it’s hard to keep up. Here’s a primer to help you keep steady and ahead of the wave.

Death and taxes used to be the two things we could count on. Now there’s a third: change.

“Don’t get too comfortable,” says Robyn Seetal, Deloitte’s manager, Risk Advisory – Sustainability and Climate Change. “Be aware that change is the one certainty.”

Political shakeups in the south and around the world continue to affect the way organizations do business. What will be the fallout of international trade talks? How will immigration issues be resolved?

Ask CPAs about the future and they point to the expanding role of finance professionals, the challenge of getting more CPAs into public accounting and the automation of finance. Everything is in flux.

But change is not only constant; the pace seems to have accelerated. Advances in technology, social collaboration and networks have propelled it to a new level, says Andrea Johnston, CFO at Dassault Systèmes GEOVIA. “It’s all so much more complex than even five years ago.”


The CPA profession’s 15-second brand campaign video points out: “Change doesn’t send memos on how it plans to change your business. But it does leave hints, numbers, data.”

Joy Thomas, president and CEO of CPA Canada, says in an upcoming CPA Magazine interview that CPAs have the skills to deal with change and are uniquely positioned to add value in organizations. “It’s a matter of CPAs being at the forefront spotting trends, challenges and risks, and new opportunities,” she says.


So how does a CPA stay ahead and plan for the unknown? And what, specifically, do you do when the turbulence is supersonic? Here are some tips to manage change.

  1. Expect and embrace change. “Change is a profile of my environment,” says Johnston, who was recently involved in a large-scale multinational acquisition. Employees must embrace a new company paradigm while they drive growth, set strategy and deliver.
    “Be open to change from a mental standpoint,” says Seetal. That prepares you better.
    If the change is disruptive: Deadlines do not go away and, in fact, disruptive change may accelerate their timing or visibility, explains Johnston. Be purposeful in building organizational capacity to succeed in the face of disruptive change.

  2. Communicate. Johnston considers communication “an absolutely number one priority.” Senior leaders must cascade the impact of change to managers, who can then brainstorm with knowledge workers to position and plan. It’s also important to have an ongoing review of context so assumptions can be absorbed and challenged.
    If the change is disruptive: Acknowledging the impact of disruptive change is even more important to ensure your team feels empowered, not frightened, says Johnston. Engage the entire team, including younger workers who may feel more inspired and comfortable with the disruptive change and thus may play a larger than anticipated leadership role in driving change.

  3. Respect the planning process. Both large and small organizations must clearly identify sources of change in a very purposeful way, says Johnston. What’s changed? How will this affect our organization? When do we take time out with individuals to work through this?
    If the change is disruptive: Your internal management and planning team may require outside help to get a deep enough understanding of the impact.

  4. Reflect and adapt. Consistent reflection and correction are necessary to sustain high-performance in the long-term, says Seetal. Research on the millennial demographic shift in the workforce, for example, led Deloitte to recently revamp its performance management system. The focus is now on finding your strengths and what you enjoy instead of finding your weaknesses and ways to improve. “That’s better for the organization and the individual in the long term,” she says.
    If the change is disruptive: Find support in your corporate and personal values. Create an organization and systems that allow for the development of new processes in times of abrupt change.

  5. Look outside your domain. Be aware of changes happening outside your area of expertise, such as operations, human capital or business development. “Think what this will mean for business,” says Seetal. CPAs can help mitigate risks and find opportunities. In sustainability, for example, Deloitte looks for cross-functional changes that will have a net positive impact on the triple bottom line.
    If the change is disruptive: Change your lens to determine how to best apply set accounting standards and principles.

  6. Be rigorous with your personal task management, and prioritize. Our life-and-work pace demands we keep on top of what we’re doing, says Johnston. Ask yourself: “Are you actually working on something mission critical?” To perfect your scheduling, take a step back and look at how you’re adding value.
    If the change is disruptive: Organizations and managers must take the time to ensure that the organization is not only anticipating a disruptive change, but also determining when and what key strategic responses are required to strengthen the organization through the change.

  7. Be conscious in hiring practices. New roles are expected to lead change, but many accountants “love the perfection of balancing something” or just want to focus on analysis, says Johnston. “Make sure you’re not setting people up for failure if managing change is not one of their drivers.”
    If the change is disruptive: You need to step back and look at the strengths, skills and skill gaps in your organization as a whole, says Johnston. For example, in 2017 businesses need financial and business analysts with big data analytics skills.

Managing change is a critical component of doing business. “Find the clues. See the patterns,” says the CPA ad campaign video. “Change the fortunes of your business.” This is an important time to fine-tune that skill.

Editor’s note
The next issue of Member News will land in your inbox on Monday, April 10, 2017.