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The Boomer Bulletin - 2012
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Small Steps to Big Change

Posted By Arianna Campbell, Thursday, February 09, 2012
It is that time of year again. Tax season has begun and firms are hoping for a 
productive and profitable outcome. However, many firms want productivity and profits to increase while everything else stays the same. In the midst of the full workloads it is sometimes difficult to embrace change, but improvements should not stop just because the amount of work increases. In fact some may argue that this is the best time to implement changes. Knowing how to make small effective changes under any circumstances will position your firm for success during tax season and the remainder of the year. 

In The Boomer Advantage Guide to Change Management, L. Gary Boomer says the following: "The ability to implement change in a positive manner has become both a professional practice and a skill set of great value to today’s firms.”  Firms may feel overwhelmed by the idea of making changes during tax season, but busy season is the time to practice driving positive change without disrupting daily productivity. This presents the most opportunities for change and the highest return on effort. Small changes can make a large impact, and making the right small changes make an even larger impact. The process will become more manageable and achievable if you identify the cores steps for change and make these changes using a methodical series of small steps, also known as Kaizen. 

Kaizen is a Japanese technique which teaches small steps for continual improvement. The book One Small Step Can Change Your Life, by Robert Maurer, explains how Kaizen can be applied to any situation. The first point in the book stresses the importance of understanding how to avoid the fears and failure associated with trying to make drastic and dramatic change. Instead of trying to make a huge change all at once, Maurer suggests that taking small steps to achieve your goal will result in longer lasting success. He also emphasizes that the steps can be extremely small because even the smallest steps will take you closer to your goal. Maurer says, "Kaizen is an effective, enjoyable way to achieve a specific goal, but it also extends a more profound challenge: to meet life’s constant demands for change by seeking out continual – but always small – improvement.”

Many firms are crippled by the belief that innovation is the only way to change. Maurer defines innovation as, "a drastic process of change. Ideally it occurs in a very short period of time, yielding a dramatic turnaround. Innovation is fast and big and flashy; it reaches for the largest result in the smallest amount of time.” Many people have adopted this view of innovation and implemented it in their firms. This kind of innovation is usually the first answer to remedy a failure or the rushed result of the latest great idea from the decision makers in the firm. Maurer makes the following differentiation between Kaizen and innovation: "Kaizen and innovation are the two major strategies people use to create change. Where innovation demands shocking and radical reform, all Kaizen asks is that you take small comfortable steps toward improvement.”

Innovation is necessary. It is important to encourage new ideas and seemingly impossible goals because this is what drives growth and change. However, innovation does not have to be reactive. When you combine innovation with Kaizen you create an intentional, continual process of innovation that ultimately becomes part of your firm’s culture.  

Maurer suggest the following practices to integrate Kaizen into your way of thinking:
  1. Ask questions to dispel fear and inspire creativity.
    "Small questions create a mental environment that welcome unabashed creativity and playfulness. When you ask small questions of others, you can channel that creative force toward team goals. By asking small questions of yourself, you lay the groundwork for a personalized Kaizen program for change”
  2. Think small thoughts to develop new skills and habit.
    "The easy technique of mind sculpture uses "small thoughts” to help you develop new social, mental, and even physical skills – just by imagining yourself performing them!”
  3. Take small actions that guarantee success.
    "By taking steps so tiny that they seem trivial or even laughable, you’ll sail calmly past obstacles that have defeated you before. Slowly – but painlessly! – you’ll cultivate an appetite for continued success and lay down a permanent new route to change.”
  4. Solve small problems even when you are faced with an overwhelming crisis.
    "We are so accustomed to living with minor annoyances that it’s not always easy to identify them, let alone make corrections. But these annoyances have a way of acquiring mass and eventually blocking your path to change. By training yourself to spot and solve small problems, you can avoid undergoing much more painful remedies later.”
  5. Bestow small rewards to yourself or others to produce the best results.
    "Whether you wish to train yourself or others to instill better habits, small rewards are the perfect encouragement. Not only are they inexpensive and convenient, but they also stimulate the internal motivation required for lasting change.”
  6. Recognize the small but crucial moments that everyone else ignores.
    "The Kaizen approach to life requires a slower pace and an appreciation of small moments. This pleasant technique can lead to creative breakthroughs and strengthened relationships, and give you a daily boost towards excellence.”
If your goal is to improve communication within the firm, a Kaizen oriented change could be as simple as defining the list of priorities for tax season and sharing this with the team. Another small result may be to create a box for people to anonymously submit questions or issues that they do not feel comfortable asking directly. These are small steps toward increasing firm communication, but the possibility for progress towards the goal is large. 

As a word of caution, do not let small steps turn into stagnation. Sometimes we can fool ourselves into thinking all small steps are progress when they really are just a creative means of procrastination or unnecessary distractions. This can be avoided by sharing goals with others for accountability, and setting up a very basic schedule or timeline for the changes to occur.   

By identifying firm goals, breaking them down into small steps and defining a reasonable timeline, you can avoid many failures that result simply from fear and feeling overwhelmed. Identifying minimal areas for change and following through on those changes can have a large impact. Tax season is the time to take small steps to improve using the tools that you have while still focusing to what you do best. As long as you are making continual progress with the small steps, the goal can be achieved. 

Tags:  Change Management 

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Sue Thiemann says...
Posted Thursday, February 16, 2012
Great article. This gives me confidence in meeting my first quarter health challenge goals b/c my goals were not huge changes but more small consistant steps to inproved personal health.
Thanks,
Sue
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