If you search Amazon’s selection of books for “change,” you get over 50,000 entries. Some are about dealing with change. Others are about driving change, managing change or learning how to change. They are self-help books and management manifestos. And all of them trade on one undeniable and human fact: change stimulates and sometimes frightens us. We’re always looking for new ways to understand and handle it.
Somewhere between the promises of success if you learn how to change and the warnings of stagnation if you don’t is a relatively untraveled path. It’s a journey of self-exploration that can have an immense influence on how you see and respond to the world as it evolves. I walked many clients through that journey, which I called the A to C Disconnect.
- Who do you think you are?
The first tenet (or A) of the A to C Disconnect is simple: write out who you think you are or, in the case of an organization, write out what you think your organization represents. This should probably be reflected in your mission or vision statements if you have them. You don’t need to be comprehensive, but you should be touching on what you think is the most important detail.
This might sound simple, but I’ve found many organizations struggle, even with a copy of their mission statement in hand, to articulate what they stand for. The reason for this is easy to explain and is the crux of the A to C Disconnect: we often haven’t achieved our ideal state yet. The idea at this point in the process isn’t to be aspirational, it’s to determine what you have internalized as truth: who DO you think you are?
“I’ve been meaning to volunteer at the soup kitchen” isn’t who you are. “I’ve thought about volunteering at the soup kitchen while actually sitting on the couch and watching Law and Order” is who you are. Big difference. But both people and organizations get tied up in lofty, sometimes delusional thinking because they aren’t being honest with themselves about what they aspire to vs. what they have actually achieved. That can make your world come crashing down around you. A short, true story you might already know will help illustrate.
At the beginning of 1996, Kathie Lee Gifford had the world by the tail. Her popular morning show with co-host Regis Philbin had made her a household name. With a devout spiritual belief and squeaky-clean, girl-next-door image, Ms. Gifford began trading on her good name to build her personal brand, including offering a successful clothing line sold in Wal-Mart stores nationwide.
At this point, Ms. Gifford had likely internalized her external persona: honest, upstanding, gentle and moral. So when allegations (later shown to be true) emerged that the factories making her clothing not only featured horrific working conditions, but also largely employed child labor, it was a stark contrast to what she had projected and perpetuated in the marketplace about herself. The truth, that she wasn’t directly involved with decisions about how or where her clothing was made and wasn’t personally responsible, unfortunately didn’t help her cause. It was a PR nightmare.
Would Kathie Lee have had the information she needed to offer an honest self-assessment? Did she truly know who she was? In the A to C Disconnect, “B” is the critical step. It’s the secret of change that very few people know.
- Who you actually are
Self-discovery stinks. Most times, if we do it right, we learn uncomfortable truths about ourselves or our businesses. But it’s essential if you want to achieve your aspirations. In Kathie Lee’s case, it would have meant investigating all aspects of her brand, making certain that each step along the way was aligned to her personal vision and public, external persona. Had she learned that impoverished children were making her clothing in unspeakable, near-slavery conditions, she’d immediately have spotted the misalignment with her image as “America’s Sweetheart.” It’s safe to assume she’d have taken proactive steps to correct it.
How do we learn who we or our businesses actually are? Simple: ask. Whether you conduct a full-blown market research project to gather public or client perceptions of your business, hand out simple surveys or just ask a number of friends, coworkers or clients you trust to tell the truth, you’re likely to hear something surprising. Don’t shy from feedback that seems negative on the surface. It could be the key to what’s holding you back from your aspirations. Instead, investigate further. Reach out a second time to confirm information you learned from your first investigation. What doesn’t align with your internalized notions of yourself or your company? What is happening that defeats your aspirations or worse, portrays the very opposite as in Kathie Lee’s case?
- Who you want to be
This kind of honesty allows you to realize the “C” in the A to C Disconnect, which is “Who you want to be.” These are your aspirations. They represent what you have always envisioned for yourself or your organization. Taking the self-discovery trip through the “B” of the A to C Disconnect helps you aim for your goals with more accuracy by identifying what actions and perceptions exist that don’t align with your ideal end state.
But if you try to skip B to go directly to C from A, you’re certain to find you’re stymied or worse, doing something self-destructive you weren’t even aware of that squelches any chance you have of being who you want to be. Be honest, be direct and be flexible. Self-discovery is the secret to change that few people or organizations are willing to engage. Those who do will reap the benefits.
On your journey of self-discovery, you might consider a Client Advisory Board. CABs enable firms to hear directly from their clients about how they are fulfilling client expectations and about how the firm can improve, cross sell and add to its service offerings. Check out the PCPS Client Advisory Board Toolkit to get started on your path.
Adam Junkroski, Lead Manager – Communications – Tax & PFP, Association of International Certified Professional Accountants
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Originally published by AICPA.org