Post-tax season insights (and what you can do about them)


Tax season in the USA is over (until it starts again!) As is tradition, accountants take some time off and, once back in the office, run the “what have we learned” meeting with the team (also known as the Tax Post-Mortem or the Post-Tax Download) to gear up for next season.

We have been gathering some intel from these meetings and found there are five key insights that, in one form or another, keep coming up as factors that hindered the process, created stress or blocked delivery.

This article tackles each one of these, as well as some suggestions and examples from other firms outlining what you can do to overcome them next season.

#1 Communication breakdown

The tax team in an accounting firm works like a relay team: usually, more than one person is involved in a filing, so synchronization and communication are vital for the team to perform at its peak.

The impact

Everyone in the team needs to be on the same page. If someone is not across a specific email, or a task is not handed off correctly, then the risk of creating bottlenecks or work to be re-done increases.

What you can do about it

Set the rules from the get-go and put systems in place that will help you and your team know where everything stands. Hold a structured MMM (Monday Morning Meeting) and review what everyone needs to deliver that week and potential bottlenecks.

You can also hold daily short stand-ups where everyone can raise issues or can ask for assistance. Every team member has one minute to share what they are working on, what (if any) blockers they see coming, and if they need anyone's help.

Finally, ensure there are owners for every job, task, and client, so everyone knows who is responsible for each of these (and go-to people are clear)

#2 Getting data from clients is challenging

Intuit found that up to 65% of tax work time is spent chasing information from clients.

The impact

If the documents, files, and numbers are not received in time, then the whole process is delayed. This is one of the major bottlenecks when it comes to tax season completion.

This also impacts your client relationship, since the time allocated to talk to and build relationships with your clients is spent asking them to send you data (ie. not adding value.)

What you can do about it

First thing would be to engage with your clients early: do not wait till tax season is here, hit them at least one month in advance.

Most importantly, try to automate the client chase as much as possible, either by setting email templates, creating a checklist for your clients or setting a designated time and person (or system) to remind them of their submission.

#3 Document management is messy

Organization is at the core of a successful tax season. Nothing breaks this faster than poor file and document management: saving the same file in three different places, not having a central repository for information, and the lack of standardization of the information required to complete a job.

The impact

If only you could quantify the amount of time spent searching for files or forwarding emails, you could give you a monetary value for the time wasted in creating work to get work done.

What you can do about it

Before tax season begins, either get a central filing system or agree on who will be responsible for storing documents. Agree whether files will be stored against a job or against a client. Also, create a naming convention so files are easy to search for.

#4 Staff management requires some planning

Have you catered for enough staff to deliver the amount of work required? Have they been deployed in the right manner? Is their capacity updated on a daily basis? Are they managing and allocating their time correctly?

The impact

Resource management is one of the tax team’s biggest issues during peak season, since if not performed correctly, it can lead to staff being overworked or jobs not being completed.

What you can do about it

Review how your staffing planning went last season. Was the load distributed correctly? Was everyone working on the right things? Were clients needs met? 

Also, look at your actual team members. How many hours were they working each week on average? Could they have started earlier with the work? Would increasing your headcount have improved the efficiency of the process or the health of your employees?

Finally, review how you manage your team's capacity. Everyone expects to put in the hours during the busy season, but if you could avoid over 60–hour weeks, you will see how the quality of work will improve.

#5 Morale, morale, morale

Finally, tax season needs buy-in by everyone in the firm. Usually, accountants are pushed to the limit. They know this is the case, but the levels of stress they handle can accumulate and deflate morale, carrying the negative effect to the following tax deadline.

The impact

Morale is a big part of practice management. A team that is not motivated will not perform to its fullest, either under-servicing your clients, making mistakes or generally not delivering on time in full. This then becomes the negative loop, where they underperform, so they are overworked, which leads to even worse performance, and the wheel keeps turning the wrong way.

What you can do about it

Like Simon Sinek says in his book Leaders Eat Last, it all starts at the top.

When the environment at work is one of encouragement, and one that meets the basic human needs to live, to learn, to feel valued and significant, we do more than just survive — we thrive. It’s the leadership’s responsibility to set up the right conditions/ environment for this to happen. We do not have the power to “change people”. We must enhance the environment.

From 'Leaders Eat Last' by Simon Sinek.

As a leader of your team or firm, get input from your team members on what were their biggest struggles the last couple of months, and implement at least one change next season (sometimes it is not about creating a big bang, but a covert, one-step-at-a-time revolution.)

If it is overworking, then set a goal that is achievable.

For example, if they worked more than 55 hours a week (this is standard!), find out what took them the longest and put in place a plan to change that lever; a reduction of 4-5 hours a week can make a big difference in their morale, as well as significantly impact their commitment to the team.

Your team knows the time will be challenging, but will appreciate you making an effort to reduce that stress.