[IMGCAP(1)]One time I was reviewing a time run and noticed a certain staff tax person, Elliot, kept appearing on clients he wasn’t assigned to and I wondered why.

When I asked the people in charge of those clients what Elliot did, I was told that they either needed a tax question answered or some research done and asked him to do it. Elliot was one of the younger people in the tax department. I wondered why they asked him and not the tax manager.

I was told that they asked the manager a couple of times and got no response. So they asked Elliot, who got them the answer pretty quickly. This was the reply I received from everyone I asked about using Elliot.

This gave me two valuable insights: 1) Elliot was respected by his peers and became their go-to person for tax questions. 2) The tax manager was not responsive to the needs of the accounting staff. It appeared he only gave his attention to what he thought were “important” issues on clients he was directly involved with.

Lessons learned were to not underestimate any staff person; to be aware of how staff interact with each other; and to make sure managers understand what their role is and that they, too, need mentoring.
An added comment: I found this through analyzing the time run. I know many firms simply “toss” away their time sheets. I wonder how this would have been uncovered if we were not using time sheets.

I believe this information would have eventually been realized, but in this instance it was found through the time sheets. Proponents of not using time sheets contend that it is more than simply not filling out the forms in hourly fractions. It is a pervasive management technique requiring a greater awareness of the value provided to a client; a clearer and tighter definition of the scope of the work; and closer oversight of staff performing the services. These are admirable ways to manage and should always be done regardless of the use of time sheets.

At some point I would have found out about Elliot, but in this instance the time sheet was the trigger.

Edward Mendlowitz, CPA, is partner emeritus at WithumSmith+Brown, PC, CPAs. He is the author of 24 books, including “How to Review Tax Returns,” co-written with Andrew D. Mendlowitz (published by CPATrendlines) and “Managing Your Tax Season, Third Edition” (published by the AICPA). Ed also writes a twice-a-week blog addressing issues that clients have at www.partners-network.com. Art of Accounting is a continuing series where Ed shares autobiographical experiences with tips that he hopes can be adopted by his colleagues. Ed welcomes practice management questions and can be reached at (732) 964-9329 or emendlowitz@withum.com.