Partner Pages 2020: Trying change on for size

By Niranjan Deshpande and Rajesh Rajpal, Directors at LPA Partners, Victoria and Nick Grieve, Director of Cloud Solutions at Perks, South Australia  

Welcome to Partner Pages: a magazine made up of stories from the Xero Partner community, for the Xero partner community and shared as part of Roadshow Australia each year.

When your practice faces major change, the size of your team can influence your business decisions – and outcomes. Small firms can pivot faster, but larger enterprises have more resources to direct at the challenge. We set out to capture the stories of two very different practices both faced with the same task: transitioning their entire teams over to a new way of working.

Here, Niranjan Deshpande and Rajesh Rajpal of LPA Partners and Nick Grieve of Perks, share how they helped their teams embrace change so that no one was left behind when making the move to Xero.

Small firm: Niranjan and Rajesh, 12 team members

Our ethos has always been that when our clients grow, we’ll grow with them. And that’s exactly what’s happened.

LPA’s success comes from having identified a gap in the market: we exclusively serve high net worth individuals and professionals who are in the small and medium business space – people who are starting small but have big ambitions, just like us. We don’t advertise and our website is best described as minimal. Instead, our practice has developed organically as our clients have grown from fledgling businesses to bigger and more successful enterprises and even industry leaders. And with growth, inevitably, comes change.

We both had a head for numbers from an early age. In fact, Niri can still remember precisely what he paid for his first ever bicycle ($33) and the exact number of guests that attended his wedding twenty years ago (337). With our level of experience, complex challenges rarely faze us. The prospect of implementing a large-scale software change, on the other hand, well, that took some getting used to.

Making peace with change

As our practice was continuing to go from strength to strength, the software we were using was failing to keep up. Ours is a fast-moving industry, and we felt like we were having to jump through hoops just to keep pace with overall practice reporting and with having a clear view  of an increasing client base. Meanwhile, as our client and staff counts increased, so did our software issues and outages. 

Around this time, we came to a realisation: the future is in the cloud. And if we wanted to avoid losing our clients to other, forward-thinking, firms, we needed to make the move. So we decided to switch to Xero.

While the benefits were clear to see, we had some concerns. Our biggest worry was that transitioning over to new software would set us back months in terms of workflow, productivity and output. Add to that being apprehensive about meeting our ATO lodgement program deadlines and on-time lodgement percentage. Then, most important of all, there was our team to consider. 

Transitioning the team

We wanted to involve our people from day one. So we told our Xero representative, “Look, if you can come into our office and give a demonstration that wows the entire team, then we’ll come on board.” Needless to say, they succeeded.

Although we didn’t have a dedicated change management department or a big training budget, we managed to successfully transition within six months. This all came down to ownership. We started with a documented implementation plan and allocated one person to spearhead the entire process – we called her our ‘Xero Champion’ – along with delegated support people working alongside her. Then we phased our transition process and saved the larger, more complex clients for when we’d become well versed in all things Xero.

Ultimately, investing in training was the key to our success. Between us, we speak nine different languages, so there’s a real willingness to learn new things. We started with monthly one-on-one sessions with a Xero representative and then moved on to tailored seminars. Rather than a one-size-fits-all solution, these sessions keep us updated on how to manage new functionality in the software.

Keeping clients on board

For a firm of our size, we don’t see any other software out there that’s as versatile and progressive as Xero. Which is why we made a point of demonstrating it to our clients. As soon as they realised the value of the information that Xero could provide to their businesses, they were happy to make the transition alongside us. What it all comes down to is communication. That means providing an honest appraisal of what the process will involve and what the rewards will be. As we say to them, Xero means any device, any time, anywhere. 

The big win is that we’ve increased our revenue, boosted our efficiencies and found the time to do more of the work we love, in exactly the same way our clients have. Plus, add-on apps like Hubdoc and NowInfinity have made our jobs infinitely easier by streamlining processes and ensuring accuracy. 

Our biggest win, however, is the way in which we’ve grown as a team. Involving everyone right from the start and adopting a phased approach made the change seem a lot less daunting. A happy side effect is that the entire process has brought us together into a close-knit group, like a family. 

Our only regret is that we didn’t buy Xero shares at the same time!

Large firm: Nick, 200 team members

All too often, accounting practices – and their clients – get left behind in legacy processes. As one of the largest privately owned accounting and wealth advisory firms in the country, this is a very real risk that we face. It’s why we identified early on that, in order to survive and thrive, we need to be ready and willing to adapt to change.

In many ways, we’re not your average firm. Our directors are total adventure junkies and have taken groups of staff (and clients) on a number of treks into the wildest heights and depths of the Himalayas and South America. As a company, we operate on the belief that inside every business owner is an explorer, seeking that promised land of independence and prosperity. Our goal at Perks is to guide them there.

All of this works to set the scene for our bold approach in adopting new ways of working. One thing we’re really proud of is our early recognition that the cloud was set to become the future of accounting, particularly in the small business space. That’s why we came on board as early adopters of Xero, and we’ve been helping our clients manage their businesses in the cloud for close to 10 years now. 

Building the right foundations

No matter how progressive your business is, change is inherently difficult – that’s just human nature for you. While our staff are very much at ease with cloud technology, our real challenge lies in transitioning large, complex clients over to Xero.

Even though we identified early on that there was going to be a lot of work involved in moving everyone across, it was still a daunting prospect. Most important was making sure our people were properly supported in walking clients through the process – because if your team isn’t confident in their abilities, change can come to a standstill.

In our experience, we’ve found that it all comes down to providing adequate training and encouraging and allowing our staff space and opportunity to innovate. A big part of how we’ve managed to stay nimble whilst growing is by supporting our people to uncover better ways of working with Xero – we make a point of rewarding their initiative with regular awards and recognition. As a result, they come to genuinely love the product and understand its benefits, bringing clients along on the journey without the need for a hard sell.

That being said, the transition hasn’t been without its challenges. Being a large firm, we manage a number of different clients with varying needs, which puts a lot of pressure on us, especially given our careful approach to tailoring solutions based on individual client needs.

Staying nimble while growing

We’re currently halfway through switching all of our clients across to Xero. One aspect of being a larger firm is that in order to stay agile, change needs to be enacted as part of a gradual, considered process. We’re currently setting up Xero Tax and Xero Ledger as the foundation, as that’s where we believe we’ll get the biggest efficiencies in the short term.

With Xero, the day-to-day operational tasks we take care of for clients are becoming increasingly automated, freeing up our staff to spend more time analysing their financial results and performance. All of which means we’re able to provide them with better advice.

At this exciting point in time, the finish line is on the horizon. Our entire team agrees that the changes we’re making will have a huge impact going forward – both on our productivity and on what our jobs will look like in the future – and that’s a constant source of reassurance and excitement. It’s certainly not a boring time to be part of the industry.

Our tips on mastering a new way of working at any size

  1. Keep your team in the loop: Ensure everyone is fully aware of what functionality will be catered for under the new system. And educate them about what the business will need to change to implement it.
  2. Involve everyone (especially the challengers): Identify the biggest resistors to change within the business and involve them in the decision-making and assessment process upfront. If they’re empowered early on, they may become agents of change.
  3. Invest in training: Make sure everyone is adequately trained in the new system. Then encourage them to continue training after the transition.
  4. Phase it in: Once everyone is trained up, tackle the business transformation and client onboarding process in phases to give your people ample space to grow.
  5. Stay agile: The industry is changing rapidly, and software continues to evolve alongside it. So it’s essential to make the effort to stay on top of the latest developments.

Making a change can appear overwhelming, especially when it’s something you’re not familiar with. Start by creating a clear picture of where you and your team are heading. People need to anchor to something when they feel discomfort so a positive view of the future provides that anchor. Then, see if you can simplify the journey or project into bite-sized chunks. It’s much smoother for everyone if the destination is easy to articulate and the way to get there is broken up into achievable steps or milestones. – Eve McKenzie, Head of Change Management Capability, Xero


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