Stop Using Band-Aids

Finding Long-Term Solutions for Tax Season Inefficiencies

Got young kids at home? If you do (or did at one time), you probably know right where the Band-Aids are. You probably know the shapes, sizes and colors they come in and about how often you'll need to use one. Band-Aids serve a short-term purpose: part psychological / part medical. And after a few hours, or at worst a day, the body has made it through the trauma, developed its own fix and has no further use for this short-term fix.

Does this concept sound familiar? Have you and your firm had to use Band-Aids – temporary fixes – on issues that came up during busy season? Why is it that we won't rip off the Band-Aids we've frequently used to get by? Or even worse, why do we keeping slapping on new ones over the old? 

The End Is In Sight

Next week you'll have the opportunity to begin removing the Band-Aids you created to help get you and your firm through whatever trauma this busy season caused. Unfortunately though, few will do it.

"It's gonna hurt!" Yeah, maybe a little. We learn this at a young age. It's the trade-off to using a short-term fix. When you remove it, you're not always going to like what you see. You'll need to relieve a little bit of pain. Far better to address these issues now before time and distance help us forget how really bad it was.

Next Step? Root Cause Analysis

So after April 15, how does your firm typically reflect on the post-mortem world of tax season? The best approach is to perform a root cause analysis. In my experience working with firms across the country, most know their issues very well, but insist on only addressing the symptoms. These symptoms are a moving target and no sooner will you address one that another will appear and be more pressing than the last.

A root cause analysis is an early and important part of the Lean Six Sigma methodology. It's critical that you understand the underlying cause(s) of your issues before beginning to invest time, money and effort into fixing the problem. The best part – performing an ad-hoc root cause analysis is as easy as asking "Why?" The technique is actually referred to as the "5 Whys". Here's an example:

  • "Why is realization so low?" Because we wasted a lot of time on our jobs.
  • "Why did the jobs go so poorly?" Because the client wasn't ready, or we didn't have enough time, or we didn't have enough people / the right people to complete the job.
  • "Why wasn't the client ready?" Well, they said they would be, we believed them, but they weren't ready last year either.
  • "Why did we then take them at their word?" Because we want to believe them. It's easier not to confront reality until we have to. We don't know how to help them hold themselves accountable
  • "Why don't we make sure they are ready before conducting fieldwork?" Because the way we do it (emails/phone calls) is the way we've always done it. We don't have another way.

Keep asking why until you've reached the real cause of your firm's inefficiencies or issues. Here are three items to be aware of:

  • There may be more than one problem
  • It's usually not a people issue
  • You'll know you've reached the root cause when you're answer is a process that isn't working or that doesn't exist.

In my example above, you'll see that the fifth "Why" helped us realize that the way (process) we interact or don't interact with our clients is very much responsible for our poor realization and lack of profitability.

Sometimes people do fail. However, what you'll find is that much more often it is your processes that either cause this failure or fail to prevent it. You have good people. Right now they may not be feeling like public accounting is what they want to do with the rest of their careers. They might be saying things like "I'll never go through another busy season like this again," or "This year was even worse than last." Seize this opportunity to create meaningful, deliberate change by addressing the root cause of these issues.

Stop using Band-Aids and start using tools that help your people transform your firm into the profitable business they want to be a part of.

Work smarter, not harder. We can help you apply Lean Six Sigma to your tax processes to make them easier on you and your team while also improving your client experience. To learn more, contact us today.

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