By David Cristello
Whether you’re knee-deep in tax season or planning for future seasons, you do not want to grow complacent when it comes to firm productivity and client tax goals. There has been exceptional change in U.S. tax procedures over the past few years, but despite those changes, or perhaps because of them, a strong foundation in process and workflow is essential to maintaining and increasing firm productivity year-round.
In this article, I’ll discuss how to gain back productivity and efficiency so you can walk through tax season prepared and confident for yourself and your clients.
Implement a “Start when Ready” Mindset
One of my favorite workflow principles is the “start when ready” mindset. I believe this is critical to bolstering a successful foundation for your firm.
You’ve likely seen “start when ready” in action at hospitals, where surgeons only start an operation once a patient has completed their check-in paperwork and pre-surgery preparation. A surgeon won’t begin a procedure until she knows the patient is ready and when all her tools are accessible at her station.
Likewise, your firm should operate in a similar fashion. This means you cannot begin work on a client’s taxes until that client has submitted all the necessary documentation to successfully complete this work.
So, before you begin, make sure someone at your firm is ready to run through a quality assurance (QA) checklist. QA checklists will not only keep everything in place, but they’ll also increase your productivity and output thanks to better organizational methods.
Here are three steps you can take to ensure you’re able to implement the “start when ready” mindset:
- Tell clients, in clear terms, what is expected of them and when items need to be delivered. It also helps to specify the exact reason why this documentation is needed during the time for which you’ve requested it.
- Create your own QA checklist for your tax returns. No matter what job or client workflow software you’re using, the checklist should ultimately be listed there.
- Communicate the change to your team and explain why you’re implementing it.
-- Go a step further and educate them on why it will benefit the clients and the firm. Additionally, show them how to use it.
-- Explain what happens if something isn’t listed in the QA checklist and how to document ideas for improvement. A simple spreadsheet of potential changes will suffice.
Consider your technology stack in this assessment, as well. Are you recording your processes in a central place for your team members to pull from? Or are you all using different tools (or none at all), leaving some parts of your team in the dark to make their own processes as they go? “Start when ready” should absolutely be rooted in a technology and process foundation that your whole firm is running on.
Reconsider Your Organizational Structure
Take a look at your organizational structure. Where is it lacking? Where does it excel? Get feedback from your team. Compare and contrast the various parts of your organization and optimize for efficiency by playing your team members to their strengths. Don’t be afraid to get data from one of your best sources: your staff. Ask them what can be improved, where they might need more clarity, what processes or services get stuck (and where). This will help illuminate opportunities to drive efficiency.
If this requires a shifting of tasks and resources to provide equilibrium, then make those changes. But take care not to catch your employees off guard. And remember, micromanaging erodes mutual trust. Do your best to step back and give team members the reins.
Learn from Previous Tax Seasons
Don’t reinvent the wheel with each new tax season. Instead, learn from these lessons. Write them down and keep them in an area where you can easily reference them so they stay top-of-mind. Setting reminders on your calendar with these lessons is one way to do it.
Also, take the time to review target deadlines versus completion dates. Determine the services, clients, or team members that have consistently missed (or met) their deadlines. Assess where they get stuck and update the process for next tax season. Often, simple updates such as adding relevant client information or where to log in to access a certain tool can save a lot of time when compounded.
To support these process improvements, establish a workflow tool to keep track of all the moving parts, including your checklists, client information, or notes. This fundamental foundation, paired with the three strategies above, will set you up for a successful tax season now and in the future.
David Cristello is the founder and CEO of Jetpack Workflow in Pittsburgh. He is also the co-author of Double Your Accounting Firm: Lessons Learned on How Top Firms Grow Faster, Build Stronger Teams, and Increase Profit While Working Less. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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