The Future of Work

Solving Busy-Season Problems Quickly and Efficiently

Jan 11, 2023 | By Katie Thomas, CPA

Solving Busy-Season Problems Quickly and Efficiently

About the Author: Katie Thomas, CPA, is a content creator, 2021 & 2022 40 under 40 CPA Practice Advisor recipient, Top 50 Women in Accounting recipient, and the owner of Leaders Online, where they help accounting professionals increase their impact, influence, and income through thought leadership and digital marketing. Feel free to visit Leaders Online or connect with her on LinkedIn to get in touch with Katie.

If you're interested in learning more about Katie and FloQast, check out her episode of FloQast CEO Mike Whitmire's podcast Blood, Sweat & Balance Sheets on Apple, Spotify, Stitcher, or YouTube, and don't forget to subscribe!

You’re in the middle of the busy season, deadlines are tight, and your cortisol levels are rising. While you’re chugging along and thinking you have everything under control, a problem arises. Whether the issue is an audit not going as planned or a team member is unable to do their job correctly, it can make a challenging period even more taxing (pun intended).

The good news?

With a few tips and tricks, you can work through these problems and still avoid burning out, alleviate stress and get back on track. The tips below will help you successfully navigate challenges that arise, even during this busy time of year.

Get in the Right Headspace

Your headspace is always crucial, but it’s especially crucial during this time. When you are worked up, it can lead to saying things you normally wouldn’t do out of passion or taking the wrong course of action. 

Think back to how often you’ve said something only to regret saying it 10 minutes later. I know I’ve done this more than once, which is why I always find that it’s best to take time to cool off and allow yourself to get in the right frame of mind when a problem presents itself. Though it may seem critical, rarely does any issue require immediate attention.

Now, this doesn’t mean spending too much time dwelling on the issue. Dwelling on why the problem occurred is far less productive than taking action to rectify the issue.

Taking time to cool off and getting in the right headspace without spending too much time on the problem will allow you to move forward through the rest of this list, including meeting with stakeholders.

Meet With Stakeholders to Find the Root Cause of the Problem

With your headspace in order, it’s time to meet with stakeholders to define the problem clearly. Before this meeting, everyone should know why they’re coming into the meeting and be prepared for the discussion.

During the meeting, a few things need to happen: 

  • You want to find the root problem (not the symptom)
  • Attack the problem and not the people 

It’s really important to focus on getting to the root of the problem without blaming or shaming anyone in the process. I remember one time while working in public accounting, I was brought into my senior manager’s office and ridiculed for incorrectly completing a workpaper.  By the end of the conversation, my senior manager realized I was never taught how to complete this particular workpaper in the first place. This is an example of where the person was attacked first, rather than the problem. In my case, the problem was not that I was a bad accountant or not trying to do my job; instead, the problem was I wasn’t taught and equipped with the skills.

Once you’re done with this meeting, write up a summary and the general consensus, along with a request for confirmation from all stakeholders. A negative confirmation, meaning they should only respond if they disagree with the facts presented, is fine too. This will ensure everyone is on the same page moving forward. 

Determine What Needs to be Solved Now

Now, it’s time to follow up with stakeholders on issues that need to be solved today. Remember that sometimes, not every problem needs to be solved right away. You may need to solve a symptom right now and address the root problem in the future (maybe after the busy season).

Prioritization is crucial here.

If there are issues that need to be solved later, make sure you have a way to track them and come back to them. Don’t lose sight of the main problem. It may need to go on the back burner for a short period, but it shouldn’t be forgotten.

Brainstorm Solutions

Once the problem has been defined, and stakeholders have agreed on the issue that needs solving, it’s time to start brainstorming solutions. Before bouncing ideas around in an open brainstorming session, get input from stakeholders individually first.

Have each stakeholder offer their own ideas on how to solve the problem. Doing so will: 

  • Ensure stakeholders understand the problem
  • Encourage creativity and participation among stakeholders
  • Allow everyone to feel as if they are a part of coming up with the solution

Speaking of solutions, the next step is to begin a collaborative brainstorming session.

Once stakeholders have taken the time to develop solutions independently, start brainstorming solutions openly as a team. 

When brainstorming:

  • Don’t criticize ideas. Creative solutions are often the best ones, and your team needs to feel comfortable sharing them. Criticizing ideas will only discourage people from thinking outside of the box and sharing their ideas. 
  • Don’t lose sight of your objective. Stay on track. Lead the session and guide everyone back to the point if they go off-trail.
  • Remember that scope creep can ruin the execution of your solution.
  • Have an objective metric of known pros and cons. No one can know the future, so everyone needs to be realistic and recognize that.

At the end of your brainstorming session, choose what people agree is the best solution and get started with creating a plan. Ensure stakeholders are included as much as possible to ensure they’re on board with the plan and you have their buy-in.

Remember, often, there are many solutions to the problem or the symptoms. Many of these will yield different yet equal returns. It may be prudent to pick a solution quickly (as the net yield is similar) rather than spending too much time deciding. Don’t lose sight of getting through your audit by spending all your time planning. This still requires the buy-in of stakeholders.

Take Action

Now that you’ve brainstormed, found a solution, and have everyone on the same page, it’s time to take action. Solving the problem swiftly and efficiently will help everyone get back on track as quickly as possible. 

Remember to stay focused and keep your eye on the prize when putting your plan into action. Staying on task and keeping your objective in mind will help you and your team avoid getting sidetracked. 

To ensure success, make sure that support is available whenever it’s needed during the implementation process. 

Reflect, Review, and Adjust as Necessary

Putting your plan into action is just the first step. After implementing your solution, take time to reflect, review, celebrate the win, and make adjustments as necessary.

Consider:

  • What worked
  • What didn’t work
  • Whether further solutions will be needed

Evaluating the results and making adjustments, as needed, can help prevent the same problem or similar problems from arising again in the future. Consider going back to the drawing board and brainstorming independently and as a team for things that didn’t work. Have an open discussion about why it didn’t work and what can be done to improve it. Many teams don’t perform this critical step in the feedback process.

When the busy season is over, reevaluate once again to see how you can do better next year to make the following busy season go as smoothly as possible. Don’t forget to consider software and automation solutions as part of this evaluation process. The right solutions can help solve current and future problems while reducing workload and improving team collaboration. Many more teams fail to put the feedback into action. Leveraging workflow technology to document and put feedback into action is one of the best strategic moves you can make.

Final Thoughts

When the busy season heats up, problems are bound to arise. The key to overcoming these issues is approaching them with a cool head and getting everyone together to find a viable solution. Working together and avoiding pointing fingers will help everyone overcome the obstacle and move on.

Katie Thomas, CPA
About the Author: Katie Thomas, CPA, is a content creator, 2021 & 2022 40 under 40 CPA Practice Advisor recipient, Top 50 Women in Accounting recipient, and the owner of Leaders Online, where they help accounting professionals increase their impact, influence, and income through thought leadership and digital marketing. Feel free to visit Leaders Online or connect with her on LinkedIn to get in touch with Katie.

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