Art of Accounting: Post tax season retrospective

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I know how you feel. When tax season ends, I put it out of my mind for a while and try to move forward with my other work.

But I am also a business owner and, as such, I need to run my business in the best way possible. That means getting better by learning from my mistakes, not that I make any…

Tax season provides a concentrated time where a retrospective can identify great things we did as well as what we did poorly. Reviewing tax season at the beginning of next year looking for changes doesn’t really work. I have found the best time is right after tax season ends, which is now. Hold a meeting with everyone in your firm and discuss what occurred during tax season.

Ask everyone to be realistic, honest, blunt and critical, and to offer suggestions to make things better. Put it in personal terms. Ask your staff to give recommendations of things they would like to be done that would make their jobs better. Have some fun and do it over lunch in a private room in a restaurant, but limit the time to about one and a half hours (two hours maximum]. Take notes and, even more important, follow up on the recommendations, giving your decisions, either to accept and implement them, or not.

Here are some past comments from staff by way of illustration. All of these have either been resolved or the procedures have changed to make their recurrence less onerous.

• “Partners do not respond quickly to my requests for a decision or to let me know whether the client told them anything that I need to know for the return.” (This is a valid complaint, and we work hard to improve this type of communication from partner to staff.)

• “After I am given a deadline and set up my schedule, a partner changes it and moves it up without asking what other deadlines I have.” (The partner should ask the staff person about their other deadlines. Alternatively the staff person has to let the partner know what they are working on and, if necessary, should go to the other partners and tell them they need to resolve this and let them know what to do.)

• “I have been working on the same clients’ tax returns for the last five years and do not see any growth for myself.” (Your firm should never let this happen. We do two years tops, and then the employee becomes the supervisor of the person taking over that client.)

• “Some clients send in their information piecemeal, and I can never get a handle on their situation, yet I am always pressured to give a ‘ballpark’ of what the final number would look like.” (We have a policy of not giving any bottom line information until the completed return has been reviewed. We let clients know this policy. We also never tell the client the delay has been caused by them — if it’s necessary, the partner does that. We also try not to start working on a return until we are reasonably sure we have all the data so the “touches” are reduced.)

• “Clients do not get back to me with missing information, and then they complain to the partner that I am sitting on their work.” (We instruct the preparer to call the client requesting the missing info at least once every three days. I have told my staff that if I do not receive a call from the client complaining they are being bothered too much, then the staff person isn’t making enough calls.)

• “The reviewer asks me to make simple changes when they could have easily have made them.” (I think it is a bad policy for the reviewer to make any changes. It also results in upward delegation where a higher-level reviewer does work a preparer should do. Also, many of these changes are of errors made by the preparer. I further believe the people making the errors will learn better when they make the corrections.)

I have dozens more illustrations, but the above should be sufficient to get you thinking about some starting points for your meeting.

I have a post-tax season retrospective checklist that is included in my tax season checklists. It is #68. If you do not have those checklists, here is a link to download a Word file. Alternatively, you can email me at GoodiesFromEd@withum.com.

Let me know how it works out for you.

Edward Mendlowitz, CPA, is partner at WithumSmith+Brown, PC, CPAs. He is on the Accounting Today Top 100 Influential People List. He is the author of 24 books, including “How to Review Tax Returns,” co-written with Andrew D. Mendlowitz, and “Managing Your Tax Season, Third Edition.” Ed also writes a twice-a-week blog addressing issues that clients have at www.partners-network.com along with the Pay-Less-Tax Man blog for Bottom Line. Ed is an adjunct professor in the MBA program at Fairleigh Dickinson University teaching end user applications of financial statements. 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.

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Tax season Tax practice Employee retention Ed Mendlowitz