By Græme Gordon, Executive Director, Praxity

Which shoe do you put on first, or sock for that matter? Which leg do you put into your trousers or jeans first?

In my case, assuming no other external influences, it’s my left sock before the right one, and left shoe before the right. But perversely, it’s the right leg in trousers first with me. Again, assuming no other external influences.

Have you ever even thought about it? Well I bet you will when next getting dressed after reading this!

But why the strange question?

These are automatic actions we all take most days. You may think they’re habitual, comfortable or maybe instinctive. And yes, in many ways, they are.

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So are many other things we do, regardless of upbringing, gender, ethnicity or geography. Think about your own bed, for instance. I bet that most of you regularly sleep on the same side, or in a particular part of the bed.  Because you think ‘it’s the most comfortable’ or it’s ‘easier to get to sleep’ there. I know that’s true of me.  My wife insists we don’t have such ‘sides’. Yet, I always have my ‘stuff’ on one bedside table at home and she has hers on the other.  And each night we do naturally get into the same side we always do.  However, when we go to hotels together, we almost instinctively get into the opposite sides. When I’m alone in an hotel room, I know the location of the bathroom will be the crucial factor.

In short, we are all creatures of habit. Even those determined to ‘buck the trend’, the ‘independent-minded’, the ‘non-conformists’ – all have their own habits and are instinctively resistant to changing.

Even if you accept this premise, you’re still probably wondering why I posed the question in the first place.

It will not have escaped your notice that prospects, clients and staff are humans too. With their own habits, and an in-built inertia and resistance to change what is, for them, comfortable.  We should always keep this in mind when proposing any changes to staff, clients or prospects.

A prospect’s resistance to changes in the status quo will be a strong influence on them, perhaps manifesting as an instinctive reluctance to change to your firm from the comfort of their current one.  Accordingly, you will need to persuade them that they will become even more ‘comfortable’ after moving to you.

But – and it’s a big but – we must not only think about this when seeking new clients, but especially if we are to retain and develop those we already have.  Remember, although they too will be resistant to change, that doesn’t mean they will instinctively stay with us regardless, and we therefore shouldn’t worry. Quite the opposite. In today’s professional and regulation-rich environment, we are required to do several things which will push clients out of their comfort zone.

Take, for example, the regular rotation of audit partner.  For most of us in the profession this is now both anticipated and accepted, albeit reluctantly.  But this could easily be something that makes a client so uncomfortable they decide it’s time for a change. They know and have come to trust their existing team.  If the head of that team is changed and they feel they are being ‘forced’ to build new relationships, they might instinctively look for a more ‘comfortable’ option instead.  And maybe for them that’s with another firm.

However, if handled well, this kind of change can be turned into an effective retention tool. It takes careful planning, and relies on us ensuring the client becomes equally comfortable with any new team member well before the change takes place. Even better if we can make them feel that they were actively part of the process, and not just the passive victim of an enforced change.

Consequently, whenever you need or want to make a change, always consider the individuals involved – especially prospects, clients and staff.  As far as possible, involve them in the planning and deliberations. That way lies good growth and a smoother business operation.

If nothing else, you might just remember this blog when you next put your shoes on.