07 Jan January ’21
“We need diversity of thought in the world to face the new challenges.”
This quote from Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the World Wide Web, resonated with me given that the last 10 months of 2020 felt like one never-ending challenge.
Yes, we’re still facing many of the same challenges in 2021, but this year there are definite sparks of hope. Vaccines are shipping, and the fresh minds of a new administration will be empowered to bring new insights and energy to tackling COVID.
Because I tend to think of everything in terms of accounting firms, it occurred to me that it’s also a perfect quote to inspire firm leaders and their staff for 2021.
In 2020, we learned things we probably wouldn’t have if life had gone on as usual. How to work from home and embrace technology with new purpose. How to better balance work and life and the significant value it offered our staff in terms of having more time at home with family.
Some lessons were tougher than others, but the accounting profession made it work. However, in many cases our heads-down, pedal-to-the metal efforts resulted in burnout—not surprising when post-tax season and holiday breaks were replaced by the drive to survive.
The burnout triangle
The problem with that high level of involvement is the risk of complete burnout if you start this year’s tax season in the same mode. To borrow a metaphor from John Mitchell, Rootworks creative director, it’s like a fire triangle—a model that’s been used for years to illustrate the three elements a fire needs to ignite: heat, fuel and oxygen. Take any element away, and there’s no fire.
Now, think of firm leaders’ current level of involvement as a burnout triangle with three equally combustible elements:
- Solitude—Humans are social animals, and we’ve spent nearly 10 months separated from coworkers, family and friends.
- Exhaustion—When our anxiety level constantly hovers at the top of the scale, it takes a toll on both mind and body.
- Pessimism—Even with sparks of hope, the future is still uncertain. How can we be sure things will get better?
Like a fire, when all three of these elements combine the result is explosive flames that lead to eventual burnout. But if you focus on improving even one element now, before tax season, you’ll go a long way toward preventing further burnout. I warn you, though, my suggestion for improving the situation involves one of the things many firm leaders (including myself) are notoriously resistant to: asking for help.
Light a different kind of fire
When you’re in leadership, you get used to running at 110 percent. That’s why you’re a leader; you love the energy, the adrenaline and (let’s be honest) being the one everyone looks toward for inspiration. You’re a visionary.
While you’re a leader, you’re also human. And that means sometimes the vision juice runs low. Luckily, that’s another thing we’ve learned in 2020: It’s all right to ask for help.
And I don’t mean simply asking an assistant to handle office duties (unless the situation truly calls for it). I mean taking the onus off yourself to be the savior, and leveraging the strengths of your employees by empowering them to bring fresh ideas and new energy to your business.
We all want to be heard and to contribute—to a better life, a better world, a better workplace. Instead of trying to do it all yourself, tap your employees’ unique knowledge, ranges of experience and distinctive points of view. Challenge them to bring back ideas that can make your firm—their firm—the best-running business it can be in 2021 and beyond.
Not all ideas will be usable right away, of course, or even viable in the long run. The important thing is to get the flow of ideas going, and to assure everyone that no idea is too out there or too minor to merit consideration.
It’s also important to have regular conversations where ideas are presented and batted around. And yes, even during tax season! After all, that’s when major challenges tend to rise up and you need all the fresh insight and ideas you can get.
I’d be willing to bet that when you light the fire of empowerment in your employees, you’ll feel a sense of relief that it’s not all on you. And even better, they’ll feel more invested in their jobs and in the future of the business. That’s because modern firms not only think outside themselves, they think inside themselves—as a team. But it has to start with a leader saying, “Yes! This is a good idea. I’d love to hear more.”
Be that leader in 2021 and watch what happens. I think you’ll be thrilled with the result.
Happy New Year! Perhaps you’re approaching 2021 with a sense of caution, a little excitement…or maybe even a whole lot of hope. What we do know, regardless of the year, is that the only constant in life is change. And all the change that we’ve experienced in the last 12 months has been hard.
Last month, John Mitchell taught our winter culture webinar that focused on Guarding Your Firm Culture against burnout. During the session, when he asked roughly 170 attendees if they had felt burned out at any point in the last 12 months, 85 percent of attendees answered yes. This statistic is a staggering and accurate depiction of what many of you may be currently experiencing or have recently experienced.
So how do we move forward knowing that another busy year is ahead of us? We do so with thoughtful intention, guarding and defining our personal boundaries, and leveraging tools in our toolkit so we can be the best version of ourselves to our families, colleagues and friends. You cannot pour from an empty glass. Prioritize yourself first!
Tools to reduce burnout
- Move! Find ways to get out of your chair throughout the day to move your body. This could be a daily walk at lunchtime (listen to a book), walking up and down a flight of stairs a few times, or investing in a desk that allows you to stand throughout the day. Movement and exercise release endorphins and can provide stress relief. If getting started is a roadblock, seek out an accountability partner in another colleague or friend.
- Schedule intentional breaks. Humans are not made to work 10+ hours a day without a break. Create a schedule or update your work calendar with blocked time that intentionally prioritizes yourself and your health. Discuss your schedule with your supervisor so that there’s no guilt in having this time blocked. The time could be spent on a variety of things: meditation, reading, eating a meal with your family, exercise, chores. The list goes on and on.
- Prioritize sleep. This one is likely no surprise. Are you getting enough quality sleep? If not, consider turning off electronic devices an hour prior to bedtime and charging them outside the bedroom. (Yes, you can buy an actual alarm clock to accomplish this.)
- Eat with intention. A good rule of thumb is to fill your plate with all kinds of colors and to incorporate protein, carbohydrates and fats into every meal. If your schedule is always busy during the week, consider food prepping on Sundays. This could mean cutting up fruit, throwing dinner in a crockpot or grilling up extra chicken to be eaten throughout the week. You can make meal prepping as complicated or as easy as you want.
If you’re reading this as a leader in your firm, be proactive in talking to your staff about burnout—and together, brainstorm ways to mitigate it. After all, it’s important to guard your firm against burnout. If you’re a staff member seeking harmony and balance in your life between work and personal time, have a conversation with your leader(s). The more ideas and involvement from the entire team, the better.
Between 2009 and 2013, the CIA was dealing with a crisis in intelligence. Their informants and assets in countries like Iran and China were disappearing at an alarming rate. It was discovered in 2013 that Iran had compromised the secret communications structure that the CIA used to contact their assets in those countries. The Iranians then started working with the Chinese government to dismantle the entire CIA communications network and eliminate moles and informants. This went on for four years before the communications compromise was discovered.
In October 2014, JP Morgan Chase, a company that reportedly spends more on cybersecurity than any other bank, had to disclose a data breach that affected over 75 million people. They discovered they had been hacked after a report was posted in August in the same year that claimed that over 1.2 billion records had been discovered on the dark web. Upon analyzing that data, they realized that many of their accounts were in this data dump of breached records. After this surprising discovery, and after doing extensive forensics, JP Morgan had to accept the realization that their network had been compromised. Hackers had been inside their systems for long periods of time, and they never even knew it had been happening.
In December 2020, it was announced that IT administration software Solarwinds’ supply chain had been compromised. That compromise likely started in the spring of 2020. The current knowledge is that Russian state hackers executed the cyber attack. As a result, they had successfully penetrated and had access to over 18,000 government and private networks worldwide.
While your accounting firm isn’t the largest bank on the planet or a government entity, it’s still at risk. It’s also target-rich in its data.
The main point here is this: A security breach isn’t a matter of if, it’s simply a matter of when. All systems can be compromised, no matter how much you invest in cybersecurity, active monitoring and awareness training.
A Mandiant Security Effectiveness 2020 Report found that 53 percent of successful cyber attacks infiltrate organizations without being detected, and 91 percent of all incidents didn’t generate an alert. Additionally, it takes financial firms an average of 98 days to detect a data breach, and longer for companies in other industries with fewer security resources.
The possibility that your network is or has already been compromised is just as great as any possibility of future compromise.
For 2021, let’s make sure our security initiatives are geared towards the “when” and not the “if.” We’ll discuss incident response planning in more detail in the upcoming ThoughtLeader releases, specifically as it relates to these statistics.
A new year brings a renewed cycle of communications
A wise person once told me to never wish time away, but with a year like 2020, I’d wager most of us are eager to say bon voyage and not look back. Here’s to a happier, healthier trip around the sun for everyone in 2021.
That new orbit also means another trip around the marketing merry-go-round and all the usual milestones that accompany the annual business cycle. As you confront myriad seasonal tasks leading up to tax deadlines, remember the importance of good communication.
One of the primary segmentation points you have with your audiences is existing clients vs. non-clients. During the seasonal tax push, communication shifts decidedly toward your existing client base. Focus on delivering content and information that helps your clients make sense of COVID-19 relief, comply with IRS requirements and conform to your firm’s business model. The communications work you do in advance will help everyone have a better tax season. This year, there’s no shortage of relevant content. Here are a few ideas:
- The impact of COVID-19 and associated relief measures on tax filings.
- Reminders for 1099 deadlines.
- Organizer notification—a number of firms have been contemplating adoption of an online tool such as SurveyMonkey or Google Forms to collect organizer information. If you’re among them, don’t neglect creating and distributing instructional content to help your clients use these new tools.
- Portal adoption incentives and instructions.
- Early filing incentives—remind and encourage people to submit documents earlier, rather than later.
- Reminders about Audit and ID Theft protection, if you offer those services.
Deploy your email and social media channels on the digital side, and keep some fact sheets and printed materials on the shelf for walk-in clients.
And, importantly, use this business cycle to be sure your firm is optimizing use of ClientView on Rootworks.com. Use in conjunction with your tax-season touchpoints to identify clients who are ready to augment their relationship with your firm in the coming year. When the dust settles after tax deadlines, you can go to work on actuating marketing plans for those existing clients, who represent the path of least resistance to enhanced revenue.
Happy New Year, and here’s hoping 2021 gives you a tax season that’s better than ever for your firm and your clients.
What we’re working on
- 2021 event schedule. We are planning out our main member events for 2021 now. We plan to announce the dates in mid-January, so please watch out for more information soon!
- Annual Member Survey. We’ll send out our Annual Member Survey the first week of January. The survey will be open through January 31. It consists of just a few open-ended questions. We’ve worked hard to share responses with folks, and we use the information to help us plan initiatives for the coming year. Thank you in advance if you participate. We appreciate it!
- January 13 – Staff Training: Getting Ready for Busy Season Part 2 of 2
- January 14 – Winter Cybersecurity Webinar
- January 20 – Staff Training: Your Tax Season Scorecard
Register in Rootworks.com under Resources > Events > Virtual Events.