You may have a well-appointed office, state-of-the-art computers, a complete tax library and the best tax preparation software money can buy. However, the success of the upcoming tax season will depend on something less tangible – the efforts of you and your staff members.
1. Streamline Your Operation
You may feel that returns did not move smoothly through your office last tax season. Perhaps, some personnel weren’t quite sure what they were supposed to do, while others were juggling multiple jobs. This kind of disorganization can result in inefficient and costly use of staff time –for example, highly paid return preparers may have spent valuable time assembling and mailing returns.
Action step: Set up procedures for how a return is to move through the office. As part of these procedures, establish clear-cut roles for everyone in the office – return preparer, reviewer, signer, and support services such as efiling and billing. Design a docket sheet outlining each step in the return preparation process, and require staff members to initial the sheet when each step is completed for a particular return. In addition to helping things run more smoothly, this practice can help establish staff accountability.
2. Review Staff Performance
Although you may have a general idea of how your office performed last tax season, you may not have given much thought to how staff members performed on an individual basis and how they need to grow and improve.
Action step: Evaluate how each staff member performed in specific areas, including technical knowledge, client relations, and management of subordinates, to determine the need for further training. For example, you may find that a return preparer spent too much time researching basic tax questions or was not adequately informed on the latest developments. If so, attendance at some brush-up courses or tax seminars may be in order. Staff members who experienced difficulties in dealing with clients or coworkers may need additional mentoring and instruction.
3. Address Staff Shortages
Every tax professional expects to work long hours during tax season. However, there is a limit even during tax season. Tired, overworked return preparers are more prone to errors.
Action step: Consider hiring temporary, seasonal help to ease the workload. By compiling statistics on returns, refunds, and extensions filed each month, you’ll be able to determine your needs in this area. If you make it a regular practice to hire temporary help during the busy season, you may even be able to build up a core group – of both professionals and support staff – that you can call in every year. These people will be familiar with your office procedures and your clients so that you won’t have to “break them in” each year. As an added benefit, you’ll have a list of reliable, proven personnel to call in if you run into a crunch at other times during the year.
4. Consider Return Assignments
You may have traditionally followed a practice of assigning returns to staff members on a first-come, first-served basis. This approach has its pluses – clients who supply you with tax data early in the season get the attention they deserve, while laggards must wait their turn. However, it also has its minuses – with highly skilled, senior preparers devoting their time to simple returns, while more junior staff members struggle with more complex returns.
Action step: Develop workgroups within your staff, composed of both senior and junior members, with a senior person in charge of each workgroup. By making assignments for both simple and more complex returns on a workgroup basis, you can help to ensure that appropriate staff members will handle each return.
5. Consult Your Staff
Your staff may have some good ideas on how to improve the way the office operates during tax season. But, they may be hesitant to come to you with them.
Action step: Actively solicit staff suggestions on areas for improvement. Let your staff know you value their opinions. As part of this process, you should also share with your staff your perspective in a nonjudgmental manner – on how the past tax season went. Your staff will also probably be interested in firm statistics and how the last tax season measured up against expectations and prior years.