Skip to main content

For tax season to be successful, everyone needs to follow the system. Last week I received two calls about managers not following their company’s system and working as Lone Rangers, and I share my comments here.

In one case, the manager does not listen to or block what the partner says and works solo and does not work with, use, train or sponsor the preparers. In the other, the manager is a new recruit who has his ways, which considerably lengthens the preparation process, thwarts the system and goes against the uniformity that the company is trying to institute.

There is a common constraint in these two situations. The company has a system that everyone has to follow and these managers don’t follow it.

Every business has a system. Some are good and some are bad. Some were established deliberately and others haphazardly. Some work great and some stink. But every business has a system. If the system needs to be improved or changed, there should be a method for that. However, it is unusual for major changes to be made in the middle of tax season. Sometimes small adjustments can be made, but whatever they are should be communicated to everyone as soon as possible.

Serious problems arise when the system is not followed, especially by a leader, which would include supervisors, managers, reviewers and partners, or even an owner of a solo practice with staff where the owner runs – circuits the system.

I suggest that those who do not follow the system do not belong to the practice or rather should not be allowed to continue working in this company. This is a hard line, and my callers have told me this is not a practical solution as tax season approaches because they need this person. So there is a second solution, and that is to keep them. I suggest here what would happen in both circumstances.

If they are let go, partners and other managers and staff will all work harder in an already busy schedule. This is so, but there will be no aggravation and the work that will be done will flow more smoothly with less conflict. Another thing is that we would spend less time with offenders trying to get them online. This lost time would be captured by work on returns that would have been done by the new parties. I did it once. I figured the manager worked 600 hours during tax season, 150 of which (25%) were non-productive and another 150 were with me trying to get them involved. In fact, I was getting 300 hours of “real” work from them. When I let the manager go, my 150 hours were diverted to replace the actual 300 hours I was actually getting. The shortfall was 150 hours, spread over the rest of the staff. I’ve always paid for overtime tax season so the staff didn’t hesitate to work harder not to get the bad apple and with the ongoing conflict and confusion eliminated.

If they’re not let go, that handler would continue to unfollow the system. This will cause confusion with staff and reduce compliance with your procedures. It will also lead to stealthy delays with staff trying to figure out which system to follow, and it will be more difficult for staff to work as a team or support each other as there will be different systems at play. I know for a fact that the associates will be continually upset and annoyed, and this will carry over through the entire firm. The success of tax season would be doomed with staff working with a negative attitude instead of an attitude of providing high value professional service. Another consideration is how the system for next year’s tax season would be set up. You would start over from the beginning.

Both scenarios assume that managers do not change their methods and accept the system.

Even the Lone Ranger had someone on his team, Tonto, and they worked very well with their system.

Consider the logic of each situation, then make your decision.

I have a suggestion for the manager who doesn’t supervise anyone. Keep him and use him for his tax filing, stop making him watch anyone and get rid of him after tax season. It’s tax season, and we must do our best, improvise if necessary, but never lose sight of the long-term success of the practice.

Happy tax season and make it a happy one.

Do not hesitate to contact me at [email protected] with your questions about practice management or assignments you may not be able to complete.

Edward Mendlowitz, CPA, is a partner at WithumSmith+Brown, PC, CPA. He is on Accounting Today’s list of the 100 most influential people. He is the author of 24 books, including “How to Review Tax Returns”, co-authored with Andrew D. Mendlowitz, and “Managing Your Tax Season, Third Edition”. He also writes a blog twice a week dealing with the issues customers have with with the Pay-Less-Tax Man Blog for the bottom line. He is an adjunct professor in Fairleigh Dickinson University’s MBA program and teaches end-user applications of financial statements. Art of Accounting is an ongoing series where he shares autobiographical experiences with advice he hopes his colleagues can adopt. He welcomes practice management questions and can be reached at (732) 743-4582 or [email protected].