From compliance to consulting


The days of accounting professionals relying on compliance are numbered

I know, I know, you have all heard this before and most likely preached to you by someone much smarter than me. However, I believe I offer one major difference. I do not think accounting professionals are “going away.” No, you will not be replaced by a robot (entirely), but the tasks you do will change and faster than you think.

During his days as chief of staff of the United States Army, General Eric Shinseki often told his direct reports, “If you don’t like change, you are going to like irrelevance even less.” I first heard this quote during a Tom Peter seminar I attended in the early 2000s and have often repeated it as the opening line of many of my presentations to accounting professionals and other audiences.

Barry Melancon, CPA, CGMA, president and CEO of the AICPA, surprised both me and an entire room of accounting thought leaders at the 2016 AICPA Engage conference saying, “The number one issue facing the profession today is relevancy.” He is right. However, what this means is that while some accounting professionals will be made irrelevant, the good news is that others will continue to not only exist, but thrive.

But how?

I offer you a possibility – the possibility that an accounting professional can increase their effectiveness in working with their customers (note: I said customers, not clients) if they adopt some concepts of consulting theory.

Making this transformation is not easy, as it requires us to think differently than we have in the past.

If you think you are ready to make this change and develop your future-ready advisory skills, I invite you to download our e-book so you can start exploring how to better serve your customers by understanding what it truly means to be a consultant.

Together, we will explore some ideas including a thorough understanding of the consulting assumptions and goals of every relationship, how authenticity is the most powerful tool you have as a consultant, why “dealing with” and even expecting resistance to change is better than try to “overcome resistance.”

Changing your questions

One key area in making this transformation involves accounting professionals improving their ability to ask more effective questions. As a sample of the session let me offer a possible question to ask prospective consulting customers:

Of the following, which best describes the type of relationship you desire in a consultant to your business:

a) an extra pair of hands

b) an expert

c) a collaborator?

Why did you choose this answer?

I have found that this question cuts to the heart of the desired relationship. Valid reasons for needing all three exist across different companies, so there is no “wrong” answer and the question itself is not threatening nor a trap. That said, the question can lead to a deep understanding of what the prospective customer values and, conversely, it offers the consultant the ability to decide if the engagement is of interest to them.

The question qualifies the prospect based on the type of consulting relationship that the professional would like to develop. Some firms are comfortable with having customers of all three types and that is great.

However, I have worked with a firm who only accepts those prospects who respond that they would like a collaborator. In their area, CRM implementations, they found that only those prospects who were willing to work in a highly collaborative environment had any real chance for success. The results were fewer, more profitable engagements.

Technology to what end?

Another area covered in the workshop is the use of technology, focused not on the technology itself but rather why do firms employ technology.

Most firms, at least those who are seeking compliance work, apply technology as a way of having fewer or shorter interactions with their clients in order to increase their efficiency in completing the work.

Contrariwise, the firms who are seeking to be collaborative consultants implement technology as a means of having richer and deeper conversations with their customers. The results again are fewer, but more profitable engagements.

“I think I am seeing a trend here”

Yes. Yes, you are and that trend counters many of the conversations happening in the marketplace today. As stated earlier, these ideas require you to think differently than you have in the past about what it means to make the shift from compliance to consulting.


Editor’s note: The original version of this article was published 27 September 2017.