How a Trip During Tax Season Can Help Your Firm
As this busy season comes to an end, I’ve continued a several years-long tradition of reflection, self-motivation and expanding my comfort zone…with a twist!
This year, the dynamic is different and my thoughts keep going back to one period when I took three weeks to drive cross-country during busy season! In doing so, I made a choice I would never have thought possible and many people I speak to ask how I pulled it off.
I admit I am not superhuman, possessing power over time or other natural forces. However, I am becoming superhuman with regards to taking control of my life and the outcomes of my actions.
On Saturday, January 27th, I packed up the car with my wife and our two toy poodles and did the unthinkable, I turned on my out of office message and turned off my email notifications in preparation for an 11,000-mile, three-week road trip. Throughout the trip, it became evident why everyone running a firm or a group should do the same, or at least disconnect for a while during a busy, stressful time.
Here are three reasons why you should disconnect!
1. To Stop Being the Crutch
We all have a responsibility to our less experienced team members to train, teach and educate. However, often this turns in to a vicious cycle.
There are many ways to kick the crutch and avoid providing direct answers including guiding them through the thought process or helping them discover a creative solution on their own. That being said, some team members will still cling to you as the invaluable resource you are!
Disconnecting taught my team members, out of necessity, to think through problems and try to solve them on their own. A general rule I have for my team to help develop their problem solving is that they think for five to 10 minutes and then ask a question with a proposed solution. Post-trip I have found that our team takes those instructions to heart a lot more.
There are fewer requests for help and they have been proposing higher quality solutions. Taking yourself out of the day-to-day is an effective way to help your staff problem solve and think through challenges to arrive at a solution. Empowering your staff to solve challenges is a matter of trust in both directions.
2. To Put Some Duct Tape on It!
Regardless of the size of your firm, as we have all grown our practices we have solved some challenges through less-than-ideal methods. If you say you haven't, congratulations! You are among the few or you are in denial.
Either way, there is a reason a high-level executive never taking a vacation is an audit red flag, as those committing fraud would have everything fall apart if they left. To put it simply, if you haven’t taken time away, you have not taken the time to revisit long-standing mountains of duct tape.
While removed from the business it became evident to me what pieces of the business work well only when I am involved. We need to ensure our businesses work well with or without us.
Admittedly, disconnecting doesn’t make these issues go away, in fact, it makes them worse. However, it brings them all to light – even those you may have forgotten about or didn’t realize existed. Make these the items you focus on during the time you set aside to work on your business and not in your business. If you don’t have this time scheduled, now is the time to do it!
3. To Walk the Walk
For those of us who don’t already have remote team members, I’m sure many of you are looking into offering this increasingly popular way of working. However, as leaders, many of us have never worked remotely – with the exception of a few days here or there.
This raises an interesting challenge for leaders. How should we structure a team in an environment we know little about?
With the advent of a dizzying array of accounting technologies, it is no longer the tech that limits our team members from working remote, it is the challenge of how. As leaders, we all want to think we can come up with a few appropriate solutions, however, without living a remote work lifestyle for a period of more than a few days, you can’t appreciate the nuances of how to best support your team members.
While on my trip I realized how vital several items are; the sense of community, access to knowledge and guidance when needed, and flexibility, to name a few. I feel flexibility is most important and why many team members are attracted to remote work.
I believe it should also come in many forms. Some business owners believe working remotely while still maintaining the traditional 9 to 5 offers enough flexibility. I am not a believer in this. For a new parent, someone with a family member that has medical needs, or - as I did during my trip - a trusted individual that simply wants to balance work with living – giving them an opportunity to simply work at a different desk is not enough.
I believe when you empower your team to get work done and make decisions, magic happens. When you enable them to work from anywhere and to set their own schedule, their days can be more balanced and productive while building loyalty.
While I was away and needing flexibility myself, I realized that I thought I had been flexible with my team, but I really wasn’t. This insight has given me a new viewpoint on setting deadlines and schedules – instead adding a remote team buffer, or eliminating a time of day delivery.
As one of my team members said recently, work might not get delivered before 5pm, but when it is delivered, it is amazing! This is because team members have their passion and enthusiasm rejuvenated daily because they have good work-life integration.
In conclusion, always remember that being the crutch for your team members makes work harder. Remember to put yourself in the shoes of those you lead and start actively removing the crutch.
Practice flexibility to elevate your understanding and emotional intelligence when it comes to your team and business. This is all hard to do – take it one step at a time. Or if you are like me, jump off the diving board and into the pool and you will learn to swim!