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March 20, 2017 KNOW HOW

Plan ahead to manage busy season

Carla McCall stands in a crowd with a drink in hand as she laughs and talks to someone. Photo | WBJ File Carla McCall is co-managing partner at Westborough accounting firm AAFCPAs and chair of the Massachusetts Society of CPAs.

The accounting profession is known for its ability to meet crucial filing dates that can change an entire year for business clients and individuals. The pressure is on during that deadline season, which translates to an avalanche of deadline-oriented work in two months.

At AAFCPAs, we are in growth mode, and the success of our busy season is tremendously important. We do as much as we can to plan ahead and schedule out the workload. If we were to shortcut that upfront planning process, our results would suffer.

As the season unfolds, there are three areas we focus on to be sure that we stay on task and energized as a team.

1. Clarity of communications

Clear communication can be the most critical ingredient to a smooth season. Otherwise, organizations risk false assumptions and expectations.

We take formal steps to ensure we are all on the same page. This year, we held an internal training on having candid conversations with one another. Through interactive and light-hearted role-playing, we rehearsed addressing minor issues that can build over time and drive teams apart. Something as simple as music playing in the workplace can create unnecessary tension.

At the end of every engagement, we meet as a team and talk about what went well, what we can improve, and what we will change.

2. Setting expectations

The training exercise focused on setting expectations. We practiced talking through specific engagements, deliverables, and clarifying goals and responsibilities for every team member. We scripted questions every team can ask to help “manage up” and “manage down,” setting expectations:

• How do you wish to be contacted outside of regular business hours?

• Do you prefer scheduled appointment times or impromptu visit?

• How do you prefer to discuss review points of a document?

• What are your expectations in response to emails?

• What are your expectations on timing to complete this assignment?

• Do you have any outside commitments that I should know about?

3. Showing appreciation during high-stress times

Throughout the season, we consistently offer ways to alleviate stress. We bring in a masseuse, cater dinners for those working late, encourage breaks and try to keep the mood upbeat. The firm's collective “Thank You” comes after the deadline, with a party in Boston and acknowledgements of the teamwork over an intense two months.

Managing through the busy season comes down to a straightforward obligation to employees and clients. When we ask our teams to step to the plate for a demanding stretch, we need to give them all the tools and support to be at their best. Clear communication, well-defined expectations and appreciation for hard work help us achieve better results every time.

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