Managing Busy Season

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Busy season is here for CPA firms.  Although, I am not a CPA I can recall some challenging experiences in the midst of busy season as a benefits advisor.

One immediately comes to mind. Our family had a trip planned to go to Hawaii for a week and the only time available was the week before Thanksgiving.  Keep in mind that 80% of our business ‘renewed’ on January 1st.  This meant that the timing for my departure would have to be managed well.

I vividly remember waking up the night before our plane was to depart and heading to the office around 1:00 a.m.  Yes 1:00 A.M!  I remembered about 10 things that I needed to communicate and accomplish before I left town.

I learned a great deal from the crisis of this experience that can be used to manage your time and work priorities during the busy season. In fact, what I went through could have been avoided.

1.) Busy Season Is Real:  Instead of trying to get rid of busy season, embrace it as just a ‘season’ and as seasons do, they eventually pass.

2.) Remember Your Purpose:  Your clients need you and they really do not care that it is your busy season. They expect the same level of service now as they do during any other time of the year.  Remember, delivery and communication matter and they matter much more frequently because your volume is extremely high.

3.) Boomerang Communication:  If you you throw it out there, it must come back.  In other words, if you delegate a task to another person, that person must make sure they loop you back in once the task is completed.  Your client just moved from the external client to the internal client.  This means that they deserve both exceptional delivery and communication too.  Make sure you communicate status updates, carbon copy on client communication and loop folks in.

4.) Discipline: The discipline you have employed throughout the year, now becomes even more magnified.  In fact, you will need to leverage the ability to turn off your email, find focused time, come in a bit earlier and be able to utilize your time and priority management skills all the more.

5.) Quick Charge:  During the week, you will feel like all you are doing is running from one thing to the next.  That is because you are.  Remember to tell yourself that you can handle it.  Be sure to find strategic times to recharge.  Use your drive time to really view the scenery outside vs. just thinking and obsessing about the work you have to complete.  That five minute mental break can make a great difference.

6.) Think Athletics:  To be a superb athlete requires an adherence to emotional, physical and spiritual disciplines to improve your performance.  Do not lose track of those critical disciplines during this challenging season.  Now is not a good time to stop your exercise regimen.

7.) Start Clean:  If you can take 10 minutes at the end of the day to capture your accomplishments and write down your list for tomorrow, you will be about 1 hour ahead for the next day.  In fact, your mind will be able to shut down as you go to sleep that night.

8.) Top 5 Technique:  Some managers will daily grab their staff for a 15 minute huddle to discuss their Top 5 for the day.  This requires each staff to come to the huddle with their Top 5 for the day and this really improves accountability. At the end of the day, staff should send their list of accomplishments to the manager and their Top 5 for the next day.

As a leader, you can sustain a positive morale during this time.  Most likely as a leader, this is just another tax season.  Your staff and seniors have been here before, so think about your audience and help them keep focused on what is critical.

Here are three suggestions to sustain morale and lead effectively during tax season:

1.) Communicate Progress: Find a way to create a strong visual of where you are to your goal of 100% completion of tax work for the season.  Your staff is focused on what they haven’t done vs. what they have done.  Help them see their success with some type of visual. A sign in the break room could do just the trick.

2.) Communicate Positivity: Your staff is winning each and every day.  Share two or three staff wins of the week and push that out to the team.  This helps embrace the fact that there is a shared purpose for the firm and that we are all human.

3.) Don’t:  Make major operational changes, new directives or internal changes during the tax season.  Keep the focus on your client.

4.) Friday Lunch:  During tax season, create a system for an administrative support person to pick up lunch for the firm.  You place your order and have it brought in.  You capture that extra hour at lunch and keep folks in house and away from having to go out and find their lunch.

5.) Celebrate: Make sure you celebrate your progress and completion. Imagine if you could do a quick Town Hall breakfast in the middle of tax season to celebrate the half way point.  Congratulate the staff for their hard work and move forward toward continued progress.

6.) Clients, Clients and Clients:  Your job is to serve your clients.  Your staff’s job is to serve your clients.  If at all possible, try and make it about them, not about the pain of your tax season.

7.) Rewards:  As much as we talk about intrinsic motivation, remember that external rewards are still valuable.  Hopefully, you have created some type of bonus system that rewards your team to deliver in a timely fashion. This ought to be a key aspect of your compensation structure.

You can manage busy season and your team needs your positive direction and focus to make sure this season is successful.  What else do you do to manage busy season successfully?