Before We Began, He Lived In Fear Of Financial Results

There I am at work. My boss tells me he wants me to look into something for him. “I live in fear of the monthly accounting reconciliation. The results are inconsistent and unpredictable. Too often, they’re worse than expected. I need you to look into it and figure out what’s going on. Partner with our Financial Analyst and create an arrangement where we can accurately predict and deliver on our monthly financial results.”*

I got on a first name basis with our Financial Analyst. The next month we saw an example of the problem: an un-budgeted $90,000 charge against our cost center for taxes on consulting services. The net effect is we’ll have to cut an annual staff headcount to account for this budget overage. There won’t be a commensurate reduction in goals or obligations.

“What’s the source of this charge”?

“Taxes on consulting services.”

“Can you send me a copy of the invoice or tax due notice?”

“No, we don’t have one. We calculate and pay the tax voluntarily.”

“OK, so this is a predictable expense. Let’s start the process to get this included in future budgets.”

“We can’t. We don’t budget for taxes.”

“What taxable consulting services are we buying?”

“Java development.”

“If this is a taxable service, why isn’t tax included and paid in our invoices?”

“I don’t know.”

“Where can I see more information about how and why this tax is calculated?”

“I can send you something.”

“Great. Thanks.”

She sent me a copy of a printout from a legal document indicating taxable services in the state where my business operated.

The major headings went like this:

  • Definition of Taxable Services
  • For Example
  • Tax-exempt Services

The service we were buying was under the header “Tax-exempt Services”, but the formatting was odd, so it was easy to miss the new header over that section.

I pointed this out, and Michelle said I should take it up with the tax department. The story was the tax department had paid this tax voluntarily every year since an intern had reviewed the documentation. He’d concluded the services were taxable.

I forwarded the evidence I’d reviewed. After a few days, the tax department initiated reimbursement of $170,000 for taxes they’d charged us the past two years. They could still request a refund from the state for those years, but earlier years were a “sunk cost”.

Over time, we resolved those and other issues, our results stabilized, and we were consistently on budget. We enjoyed improved performance, consistent results, and peace of mind.

Consider And Act

  • Where is your organization delivering results below expectations?
  • Where could you use performance improvement and more peace of mind?
  • Are your expenses, revenues, or other results not meeting goal?
  • Where’s the incentive to overcome the hurdle, and for whom?
  • How far outside your zone of influence or comfort have you gone to overcome the problem?
  • Who is rewarded and who is hurt by continuing things as they are?
  • What are the costs of achieving a breakthrough?
  • Are you ready for a breakthrough, or is status quo good enough?
  • What’s the safe choice, and where are the risks, and for whom?
  • What values are reflected in the status quo, and what values would be reflected in the case of a breakthrough?
  • Live your values.
  • Let me help you improve your results!

*While I’ve placed conversations in quotes, they’re not exact quotes of the conversations. They are representative of the spirit and content of the conversations, as I recall them.


Also published on Medium.

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