It is that
time of year again. Tax season has begun and firms are hoping for a
profitable outcome. However, many firms want productivity and profits to
increase while everything else stays the same. In the midst of the full
workloads it is sometimes difficult to embrace change, but improvements should
not stop just because the amount of work increases. In fact some may argue that
this is the best time to implement changes. Knowing how to make small effective
changes under any circumstances will position your firm for success during tax
season and the remainder of the year.
In The Boomer Advantage Guide to Change
Management, L. Gary Boomer says the following: "The ability to implement change
in a positive manner has become both a professional practice and a skill set of
great value to today’s firms.” Firms may
feel overwhelmed by the idea of making changes during tax season, but busy
season is the time to practice driving positive change without disrupting daily
productivity. This presents the most opportunities for change and the highest
return on effort. Small changes can make a large impact, and making the right small changes make an even larger
impact. The process will become more manageable and achievable if you identify
the cores steps for change and make these changes using a methodical series of small
steps, also known as Kaizen.
Kaizen is a Japanese technique which teaches small steps for
continual improvement. The book One Small
Step Can Change Your Life, by Robert Maurer, explains how Kaizen can be
applied to any situation. The first point in the book stresses the importance
of understanding how to avoid the fears and failure associated with trying to
make drastic and dramatic change. Instead of trying to make a huge change all at
once, Maurer suggests that taking small steps to achieve your goal will result
in longer lasting success. He also emphasizes that the steps can be extremely
small because even the smallest steps will take you closer to your goal. Maurer
says, "Kaizen is an effective, enjoyable way to achieve a specific goal, but it
also extends a more profound challenge: to meet life’s constant demands for
change by seeking out continual – but always small – improvement.”
Many firms are crippled by the belief that innovation is the
only way to change. Maurer defines innovation as, "a drastic process of change.
Ideally it occurs in a very short period of time, yielding a dramatic
turnaround. Innovation is fast and big and flashy; it reaches for the largest
result in the smallest amount of time.” Many people have adopted this view of
innovation and implemented it in their firms. This kind of innovation is
usually the first answer to remedy a failure or the rushed result of the latest
great idea from the decision makers in the firm. Maurer makes the following
differentiation between Kaizen and innovation: "Kaizen and innovation are the
two major strategies people use to create change. Where innovation demands
shocking and radical reform, all Kaizen asks is that you take small comfortable
steps toward improvement.”
Innovation is necessary. It is important to encourage new
ideas and seemingly impossible goals because this is what drives growth and
change. However, innovation does not have to be reactive. When you combine
innovation with Kaizen you create an intentional, continual process of
innovation that ultimately becomes part of your firm’s culture.
Maurer suggest the following practices to integrate Kaizen
into your way of thinking:
- Ask questions to dispel fear and inspire
questions create a mental environment that welcome unabashed creativity and
playfulness. When you ask small questions of others, you can channel that
creative force toward team goals. By asking small questions of yourself, you
lay the groundwork for a personalized Kaizen program for change”
small thoughts to develop new skills and habit.
"The easy technique of mind sculpture uses "small thoughts” to help you
develop new social, mental, and even physical skills – just by imagining
yourself performing them!”
- Take small actions that guarantee success.
taking steps so tiny that they seem trivial or even laughable, you’ll sail
calmly past obstacles that have defeated you before. Slowly – but painlessly! –
you’ll cultivate an appetite for continued success and lay down a permanent new
route to change.”
- Solve small problems even when you are
faced with an overwhelming crisis.
are so accustomed to living with minor annoyances that it’s not always easy to
identify them, let alone make corrections. But these annoyances have a way of
acquiring mass and eventually blocking your path to change. By training
yourself to spot and solve small problems, you can avoid undergoing much more
painful remedies later.”
- Bestow small rewards to yourself or others
to produce the best results.
you wish to train yourself or others to instill better habits, small rewards
are the perfect encouragement. Not only are they inexpensive and convenient,
but they also stimulate the internal motivation required for lasting change.”
- Recognize the small but crucial moments
that everyone else ignores.
"The Kaizen approach to life requires a slower pace and an appreciation of small
moments. This pleasant technique can lead to creative breakthroughs and
strengthened relationships, and give you a daily boost towards excellence.”
If your goal is to improve communication within the firm, a Kaizen oriented change could be as simple as defining the list of priorities
for tax season and sharing this with the team. Another small result may be to
create a box for people to anonymously submit questions or issues that they do
not feel comfortable asking directly. These are small steps toward increasing
firm communication, but the possibility for progress towards the goal is large.
As a word of caution, do not let small steps turn into stagnation.
Sometimes we can fool ourselves into thinking all small steps are progress when
they really are just a creative means of procrastination or unnecessary
distractions. This can be avoided by sharing goals with others for
accountability, and setting up a very basic schedule or timeline for the
changes to occur.
By identifying firm goals, breaking them down into small
steps and defining a reasonable timeline, you can avoid many failures that
result simply from fear and feeling overwhelmed. Identifying minimal areas for
change and following through on those changes can have a large impact. Tax
season is the time to take small steps to improve using the tools that you have
while still focusing to what you do best. As long as you are making continual
progress with the small steps, the goal can be achieved.