Hopes for 2023: Addressing change fatigue, making creative connections

Hosted by Neil Amato

Lindsay Stevenson, CPA, CGMA, chief transformation officer at the firm BPM, reflects on two recent conferences and shares thoughts on what might be next for remote work. The conversation also touches on her hopes for 2023, including the importance of addressing change fatigue and rebuilding relationships.

Here are links to Stevenson's previous appearances on the JofA podcast:

What you'll learn from this episode:

  • What Stevenson means by the "wave … crashing over your head" at Digital CPA.
  • Why she said that the topic of M&A came up often at Digital CPA.
  • An explanation of the PERMA model and the importance of filling "buckets."
  • Stevenson's rundown of two CPA leaders and their dances to the stage at the recent AICPA & CIMA Women's Global Leadership Summit.
  • Why she says it's OK to feel a bit overwhelmed.

Play the episode below or read the edited transcript:


— To comment on this episode or to suggest an idea for another episode, contact Neil Amato at Neil.Amato@aicpa-cima.com.

Neil Amato: Welcome to 2023 and welcome back to the Journal of Accountancy podcast. We're happy to have you back with us, and we are starting the year strong. Our guest is a standout CPA, Lindsay Stevenson. Those who have heard Lindsay speak know she's a leader in the profession, someone worth following and listening to. You'll hear that interview next.

Amato: Welcome to the Journal of Accountancy podcast. This is your host, Neil Amato, recording, I don't want to say live, but kind of live from Digital CPA in Austin, Texas. It is Tuesday, Dec. 6. I am joined by a repeat guest on the Journal of Accountancy podcast, Lindsay Stevenson. Lindsay is a CPA. She holds a CGMA designation. She is the chair of the Women's Initiatives Executive Committee, and a sought-after speaker. Thank you, Lindsay, for being here.

Lindsay Stevenson: Thank you for having me. Once again, always one of my favorite activities to participate in.

Amato: Thank you for that. We're going to have you recap a little bit of what you've heard at Digital CPA so far and also another recent conference that I'd say is near and dear to your heart. But the first thing I want to ask you about is a question I'm trying to ask a bunch of our podcast guests. What is your hope either for the profession or for your life for 2023?

Stevenson: I feel like that's such an epic question, hope for my life for 2023. I love that this question is being asked first of all because it's so deep and profound. As we come out of something so crazy as the pandemic over the last couple of years, I feel like we keep saying we're coming out of the pandemic and we've been saying that for almost a year.

But really for 2023 for me from a hope perspective, is really getting back to our core of humanity with that connection, that relationship. At BPM we say "because people matter," that's really our core existence. Really exemplifying that in ways that are different than how we may have done it before.

I think you might ask at some point about the workforce and remote and all these kinds of things. I think the opportunity to be creative, that's what I hope for 2023 is be really creative about how we continue to create those connections and rebuild those relationships in new and different ways and maybe through different media than what we've been used to in the past.

Amato: When we first met for a podcast recording, it was 2019 at ENGAGE in Las Vegas. Remote work was totally a thing then, but it's way more a thing now. As we head into 2023, what do you think is the future of predominantly remote work?

Stevenson: It's a tough question because there are a lot of factors at play and it's really hard to have one right answer that fits all of the scenarios that we can even possibly think about and then the ones that we haven't even really pictured yet. But I do think that for remote work the things that we're going to have to address and the things I see rising to the surface are beyond just the things that we talk about now, which are engagement, management, productivity. We're having those discussions.

But it's an even bigger question of what does remote work mean for our profession in the long run? What does it mean when we suddenly have access to a global workforce in a way in which we really at every firm level may not have had historically? What does that mean from a compensation perspective? What does that mean from a value proposition perspective for me individually as the remote worker? How do I show up?

I don't think it's going to work anymore for me to say, well, here's my skill set and you should pay me for it. Because the reality is that the global marketplace now makes individuals who have that same skill set but live in a geographic region that has a much lower cost of wage and labor. How do I make sure that my value still matters beyond just a skill set that I may possess? I think as we move into 2023 and the remote workforce discussion, it's not going to go away. Working remotely is maybe not the only answer. It will be remote and, and what does the end mean and how do we structure that?

But really thinking about these bigger issues of if I do this now today. If I shift my workforce fully remote, what does that mean for me from a compensation standpoint three years from now? What does that mean for my firm? How do I serve my clients? If you're in business and industry, how are you getting resources right into your team? What does that look like if there's a language barrier? All those things come up. I think thinking about that bigger, long-term impact of our choices now is going to be where we need to focus for 2023.

Amato: You mentioned your firm's letters BPM. I think in discussing the remote work part of this, we should say you are a remote worker for this firm. This is a what, San Francisco-based firm? Is that accurate?

Stevenson: Our biggest office is the Bay area. Really the West Coast footprint is primarily where we operate. But, yeah, I've been remote team member since I joined a year-and-a-half ago in South Dakota. I'm not even Californian, so I'm a real oddball for the team to deal with. I don't want to get this wrong, so please nobody go back to Jim Wallace and quote him on this number. But somewhere around 450 to 485 to 500 of our colleagues indicated to us when we asked that they wanted to stay fully remote. That's almost more than half of our workforce.

When we add in those that indicated they wanted to work hybrid, so less than five days a week in the office, it's 74% of our workforce. We already can see that the shift of what the demand is in the workforce is significantly different than what it was four years ago, five years ago. We have a lot of remote team members and we're doing the same thing every firm is.

What consequences will our choices have? How do we make that work? But we want to be known as the most flexible workplace in the profession. To do that, I think you go back to some of what we wanted to talk a little bit about what I'm hearing at the conference this week. But Jody was on the Town Hall today and he was talking about the way they compensate their people is based on what they're responsible for, not necessarily what they produce or how many hours they work. Just being creative about how we think of those things, super cool. That's a really creative way to think about work and remote workers.

Amato: Yeah, Jody Grunden, who was on the live AICPA Town Hall Series, and he is going to be a guest on this podcast. I'm excited to have him on. No matter what, on the remote work front, what you said about your firm, whether it's 450 or 500, doesn't matter, it's a big percentage that are interested in remote work. Let's talk some about the conference. You've been here two days. I'm just getting here because I'm piggybacking onto another event. What are some of the themes that you've heard so far from, I guess, two-plus days at Digital CPA?

Stevenson: Yes, so there is a lot going on around here, which is awesome. It's almost overwhelming, like this wave is coming and just crashing over your head and you come up for air and you're like, oh my gosh, I have so many things that I wish I would have done or I wish I would have written more about, and so I have all these scribbly notes that I intend to take back. But I think some of the major themes that have shown up here are really related to the workforce, like where's the talent coming from? How are we retaining the talent?

Really pipeline issues. That's a big, big topic around here. The other is business model. There's been a ton of discussion around like, is the model we're currently operating under working for our firm or organization on a long-term basis? I think some people are starting to feel like, no, it's not. Then what are my options? What does that look like? How can I be creative? That theme has come up quite a bit. Then more themes that are coming out of the conversations, we had a roundtable and we were talking about opportunities that we may be able to seize that we see coming down the pipeline, and there was a lot of discussion about M&A. Not just M&A in the profession, so to clarify, that would be like combinations.

Not just within the profession, but our client base and those that we serve and for our business and industry folks I think it's happening in their world, too. There's all these conversations of, how do we integrate? How do we make sure that we can understand each other? How do we make sure that our processes convert and that the people we serve are getting the same level of service they expect from us? There's a huge opportunity in the accounting profession to really be the experts in helping get you through that process.

Not just the tactical technical piece of what we have historically done on M&A, which may be due diligence, it may be valuation, some of those technical services, but really that overarching, how do I support you and how do I engage and guide you through all of the pieces of this process? I want to understand what your attorney is telling you so that I can give you really good advice about how to manage that. I think that's a really cool and unique aspect of something that traditionally we always think about the number service, like how do we engage with the numbers? That's a much more human piece of a service that we're in a great position to provide.

Amato: That's Digital CPA so far. I want to go back about a month ago, the Women's Global Leadership Summit. As I said, you're the WIEC chair. Tell me some of the highlights from that event. One, just the fact that it was in-person again for the first time in a while.

Stevenson: It was brilliant. Sometimes you just go to something and if you're not familiar with PERMA and the idea behind positive psychology, and you have buckets and you need to fill certain buckets, and one is relationships. Just being in the same space as people who are as passionate about making an impact as you are, there's something just so empowering about that. That would be the first thing, just being in the same space as not just women, men, we have a number of men who are incredibly influential and impactful in the profession, to just be in the same shared space. There's some kind of synergy and energy around that, that really is inspiring.

It was great to be back in person. That was the first thing. But then, the content. Sometimes you go to a conference and you know it's going to be good, and I'm on the planning committee, so I feel like I knew it was going to be good. But then you're sitting there and you're hearing it and you're letting it wash over you and you're experiencing the reactions from people that are next to you, and everybody's just getting this feel, and suddenly that content is so much more impactful. I feel like that was the energy of the event.

We had some amazing speakers, but Kimberly Ellison-Taylor is our MC and has done that actually for the last couple of years for us. There's just something magic about what she brings to the room and to the stage. But what was cool this year is she started that off dancing. They played her walk-up music and she danced her way to the stage. Then our keynote danced her way to the stage. Then Anoop [Mehta], who is the chair of the AICPA, danced his way to the stage. There's just something about that that was so freeing and so inspiring that everybody by that point was like everyone's locked in, like we're here, we're going to make some big changes. Everybody's stoked, let's do this. It was cool.

Amato: Right now I'm wishing this podcast had video because I would need to see some of that footage because that's awesome.

Stevenson: It might exist.

Amato: We're talking here in person, which is great, because as I said, we've had you on the podcast before, but the first time was in person, and then it was like two years and it was remote. It was a fun interview. Nothing wrong with when we talked last spring, but it is nice to be back in person. Anything you'd like to add in closing about this event or looking ahead?

Stevenson: I think people are tired. I think there's a change fatigue that's running rampant in our profession between our technical requirements and what we're expected to know and provide to the people that we serve, in addition to all the things that we're trying to do in order to do that better. So there's just a constant need for our time and energy, and the learning that that takes is almost overwhelming. I would say to those of you out there listening, one, it's real and that's OK. It's OK to be tired of change and it's OK to feel a little bit overwhelmed.

It's my job to actually do these things, and I am tired and sometimes overwhelmed. But what's really neat and cool is that when you come to something like Digital, or you come to something like the Women's Summit, or just us talking in the same space, or you have the opportunity to be engaged with a group of people, the exponential value of collaboration to mitigate that change fatigue is, I can't talk about it enough. It feels like, I don't want to say the shared misery, but sometimes that shared experience of saying, gosh, we're all worn out, but man, if this works, if we do this one thing right, the result is going to be so impactful to the way we do business or the way we operate.

We can't afford not to. Being able to do that as a team, there's just something about that that shifts how it feels to go through the process. Going through it alone sucks. Going through it together sucks a little bit less. Reaching that end goal together is something that you can't even put words around. There is some shared joy that everybody just says, holy cow, we made it. Holy cow, we did it. Can you believe we got this done? I actually can't believe we got this done. There's that shared experience. That's the thought I'd leave all of your listeners with is, there has been a lot going on, there's more coming. It's not going to stop. Change isn't going to stop happening.

But embracing it in a collaborative team is a way to let you do that so much better and not be lonely as you're on the journey. Reach out to those people that are on your board. Reach out to those people that are your go-to when you're having a rough day. Reach out to your wine night group and just say, hey, I'm going through this, I want to go through it together. It makes a big difference.

Amato: Lindsay, thank you very much.

Stevenson: Thanks for having me, Neil. It's always such a pleasure.