What’s the difference between a visionary and a bellwether? A perfectionist and a guru?
If you know, then you’ve been following BlackLine’s efforts to better understand how users respond to process automation and other technology upgrades.
“Companies are becoming more technology-focused every day,” says Isaac Tucker, BlackLine’s Chief Product Officer. “But they should also realize that the people—those who will work with the new technology—are as critical as the technology itself. It’s important not just to get these people on board, but to place them in positions where they—and the new technology—will succeed.”
That’s why BlackLine conducted an internal study to help understand how different people respond to change, and the ideal positions for various personality types along a new tech-adoption curve.
The Research-Based Process
The BlackLine formula was created from internal research. It evaluates accountants’ attitudes about change across three specific axes, by asking three hypothetical questions:
- How do you feel about risk?
- What is the focus of your work?
- How do you approach your career?
The team evaluated each response using a sliding scale.
On the risk axis, the scale measures a person’s comfort level surrounding risk. At the low end, a person is considered risk-oriented—likely to have the attitude that if something isn’t broken, it shouldn’t be fixed.
At the high end of the scale, people are change-positive, with a mindset that welcomes change even though it brings risk.
The second axis ranges from a pure-accounting mindset to a more business-focused attitude. Looking at change, the pure accountant will focus on details—the how and what of the change.
The business-oriented accountant, on the other hand, will want to know why something is happening, or why it is happening in a particular manner.
The third axis represents career approach. It ranges from ambitious, with a put-me-in-charge attitude, to steady, for a person who loves his or her job and would be glad to keep it as is until retirement.
By evaluating people’s responses to these questions, BlackLine came up with eight specific character types, or Personas. Four of these fit with the business-oriented responses to question two. And four fit with the pure-accounting responses.
BlackLine then named the Personas for each type:
- Visionary: a passionate, “big picture” advocate who believes in the promise of technology to bring about change
- Architect: a cross-functional planner who bridges the ideal and practical reality
- Perfectionist: an organizational quality-control person with business and technical knowledge
- Bureaucrat: a leader who defends the status quo and doesn’t trust technology
- Bellwether: a widely respected change agent with deep accounting expertise
- Model Accountant: an accounting expert who embraces change and can iron out key details
- Guru: an “accountant’s accountant” who has historical knowledge and technology skepticism
- Purist: an extremely knowledgeable accountant who doesn’t embrace technology
How Each Persona Responds to Change
Tucker posits that each of these Personas can play a role in new technology adoption, and their roles don’t necessarily line up with formal titles or responsibilities.
“Titles have little or no meaning,” he says. “They’re important for salary, training, promotion, and other reasons, but they say nothing about how a person might function when dealing with change.”
Visionaries and bellwethers, for instance, are what Tucker calls true leaders, regardless of their professional titles. Therefore, they are ideally placed at the beginning of an adoption curve.
The visionary might be first because he or she has the business understanding to see and express how the new technology may benefit the entire organization. Next, the bellwether amplifies that enthusiasm to the accounting side.
Next are the architect and model accountant, who are closer to the actual implementation details. Then, the perfectionist and guru bring necessary skepticism to the project.
“They fill the need for quality control in new projects,” says Tucker. “All change brings inherent risk, and these people have the knowledge to understand how and where the vulnerabilities may lie. And they’re not afraid to express their opinions.”
Bureaucrats and purists should have limited roles in the adoption team. But, Tucker says, with the right encouragement these people can sometimes be “flipped” to become believers and future leaders.
Read this blog to learn the three best practices for accounting process change.