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Firm and Workflow Management

Messaging matters: Leadership communication to help your team through tax season

Jason Blumer  Blumer & Associates, CPAs

Jason Blumer  Blumer & Associates, CPAs

With tax season in full swing, and you may need some leadership communication tips to help your team through it. This is part two of a three-part series on tax season messaging to help you make tax season a more valuable time of year for your team and clients.

The first part focused on pre-season leadership communication tips. We discussed how to ‘message’ to your team and clients in a way that prepares them for the season, and makes sure growth stays on track and no one experiences confusion. In this second article of our series, we are going to talk more specifically about how to message to your team appropriately during this busy season.

Just like any professional services firm, all your improvement and ability to become a better firm is locked up in the minds of the people that work in your firm. That said, the preparation of your team’s minds, how they work during tax season, and how they feel about what they went through when it’s all over can have huge ramifications for your firm’s growth. If you can tap into the minds of your team, then you will grow and improve as a firm. But many firms are so busy that they fail to make the time it takes to plan the messaging around their team’s work. Make this commitment to your team and your firm will become a safe, healthy place for your team as they commit to working hard during this disruptive season.

Leadership communication tips

As a reminder from part 1 of this blog series:

Messaging is the process of telling humans what is happening to them during times of drastic changes.

Let’s review leadership communication tips to help you maximize messaging to your team in the three key areas mentioned above:

  • Preparing your team’s minds for tax season,
  • Helping them while in the middle of the busy tax season, and
  • Drawing learning out of your team after the season is over.

Preparing your team’s minds for tax season

Tax season can be daunting. Just the thought of it (and reminiscing what it was like last season) can really upset your team. But firm leaders may not even know this because no one is asking the team how they are doing, or what they are thinking about the upcoming season. I believe that firms should be clear about the expectations of their team, especially during heavy times of work. And we should expect our team to step up and deliver. But the team will be more committed to doing this when they know the firm cares about what they think and takes the time to listen to them and sort through the preparation needed to be successful during tax season.

  • Practical tip with questions: gather the team together for a stand-up meeting, or an online meeting over Zoom to ask some key questions about the upcoming season: How are you preparing for this season? Are you letting your significant others know what’s coming? How can you do this? Are there unspoken fears you have about the software, processes, or clients that we need to hear about? What one small thing could we do better this year to make our tax season better than last year?

Helping the team during the busy tax season

We’ve explored some ways to prepare the minds of the team before the season starts. Now we can discuss how to care for them during the season. As you go through the season, stepping outside, or spending time in a weekly meeting can do a lot to help the team feel safe. Again, everyone has to work hard! But stepping away from tax returns for a lighthearted meeting each week can do wonders to keep everyone focused on the rigors of the season. Humans are not machines, and their minds are not meant to be pushed to the brink of confusion, boredom, or strain. Your team will work harder, produce more, and be more valuable for the firm when they are cared for.

  • Practical tip with gifts: My partner has on her calendar to send gifts to the team during tax season every few weeks or so. It’s always a surprise to the team, but it reminds them that they are part of a team and that we care about them. Even the smallest of gifts, that are well thought-out (like big boxes of Cheez-its!) can be an unexpected treat to allow the team to keep working hard while being reminded that we love them and their work.

Drawing learning out of your team after the season is over

Perhaps the greatest time of learning is after the season has concluded. This is when the minds of the team are beginning to wind down from a strenuous season and their learning can wane. So tapping into what they have learned as soon as the season is over can drive huge learning and change for your organization. Some call this an AAR, an after-action review. An AAR has some staple questions you can ask to draw the most learning out of the team: What did you expect would happen this season? What did happen or work this year? What would you do differently next time? Professional service firms are built on the minds of humans. And when you take time to tap into the human mind, your firm will always grow in value to your clients.

  • Practical tip with a party: Throw a party after your season is over. This doesn’t have to be a big deal and can simply be a sandwich party on a Friday afternoon after the season has ended. Everyone can come casually, the leaders can explain that you are about to tap into the minds of your team in a fun way, and then you can have a sandwich-fest. It’s fun to have large sticky pad paper stuck all over the office with the questions listed above in the AAR. And the whole team can progress through the questions and the office writing their answers on the paper. The last question can be a fun, light-hearted question like “What is the weirdest thing you heard, saw, or did this season?!”

Some of the work detailed in this article is foreign to many firms, and I venture to guess may seem superfluous or like a waste of time. But all these ideas are meant to message the minds of your team in ways that truly care for them. People get overwhelmed, blown up, excited, overworked, stressed for many reasons, and upset. You must pull all of that angst out of them so they can feel safe enough to share insights that make your firm better, while further committing to the hard work required to keep the firm humming.

We’ve used a lot of these leadership communication tips in our virtual firm, and it truly does keep the minds of our team healthy, while building a healthy culture as a benefit.

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