5 ways to motivate your team during tax season

RitaIt’s tax season.

That means it’s showtime for CPAs, and the show must go on. You are the star of the show, and your script constantly changes, making it difficult to keep yourself up to date and focused.

So, how can you motivate the rest of your hardworking team? Many activities and steps can motivate your team. Here are five that are the most critical for success.


1. Prioritize communication.

Issues inside an accounting firm almost always can be traced back to someone’s communication failure. With so much of your team working remotely, make an extra effort to ensure that your staff knows what management is thinking and planning.

Even before the pandemic, firms struggled to become more transparent. Partners think a lot of things shouldn’t be disclosed but, in reality, very little should be secret inside a firm.

With most of us managing a remote workforce, I recommend firm leaders over-communicate. Remember, communication goes both ways. It’s also important for leaders to be good listeners. Seek ideas and suggestions from your team. Their creativity might surprise you.

2. Set clear expectations.

When a new person joins the firm, they want to know, “How do we do it here?” They want to know how work gets done so they can learn it quickly and become an asset to the firm. Team members want to carve out their career path and what the partners expect of them so they can advance to senior leadership roles. If you have a siloed firm, for example, you might have three partners and three ways to process work. Strive to be a cohesive firm so that everyone can perform client engagements the same way — the firm’s way.

Another way to set clear expectations is to communicate budgets for client engagements. Simply share with the preparer, “This engagement is for John Doe. It should take you about four to five hours and I would like it before the end of next week.” In larger firms, this can be done via the firm’s scheduling system.

Also, be sure to clarify work hours for your team. Do you expect them to be online during core hours? What are those core hours and what are the exceptions for those employees who prefer to work late at night or early in the morning?

3. Recognize good work.

The annual performance feedback session has almost entirely been eliminated in more progressive firms. Today’s workforce wants continual feedback and it requires a lot more training, coaching and mentoring from leaders.

You can recognize good work by sharing success stories about how people have helped each other and their clients. Shine a spotlight on those people.

If someone is doing good work, don’t hesitate to ask them to stretch if the need arises. If you lose a tax manager, ask a high-performing senior to stretch and fill in for a manager even before they are ready.

Be sure that partners and managers delegate challenging work to the team. Members of the team learn by getting more difficult assignments.

Recognize good work by providing rewards. Some firms have become creative by sending goodies to team members’ homes, such as boxes of candy or special office supplies. One firm even had pizzas delivered to team members’ homes, and they had an online pizza party.

4. Encourage work/life balance.

Many firms report that their employees are working longer hours since they have gone to remote working. When work is at home, it’s difficult to separate the two. Discuss this with your team and help them create boundaries for personal time. Suggest employees designate work areas in their home so they can separate their work life from their personal life. Help them to set specific work and break hours that are communicated clearly and transparently.

5. Demonstrate a collaborative culture.

Employees feel engaged when they are part of a team. Working remotely makes some of them feel like they are alone and invisible. Try using breakout sessions during your online meetings. Smaller groups make people feel safer about speaking up.

Take your culture virtual with a strong, full-featured intranet. It helps keep everyone on the same page by providing access to important firm information and tools. Employees can find answers, learn new skills and share successes with others via the intranet. It is also the place to reinforce core values and the firm’s purpose. Some firms make mini training videos to help beginners learn the skills needed to best serve the clients.

To hear more about how to best motivate and encourage your team during tax season, check out this Tax Section Odyssey video for insights.


Rita Keller, President of Keller Advisors LLC

Rita is a widely respected voice about CPA firm management. She writes a popular daily blog for CPA firm leaders and has been repeatedly named as one of the Top 100 Most Influential People in Accounting. Rita acts as an adviser and coach to CPA firm leaders across the country. You may reach her at rkeller@ritakeller.com.