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Corporate Tax Departments

Wake-up Call: How to reduce the substantial flight risk of employees within corporate tax departments

Natalie Runyon  Director / ESG content & Advisory Services / Thomson Reuters Institute

Natalie Runyon  Director / ESG content & Advisory Services / Thomson Reuters Institute

There are actions that leaders of corporate tax departments could take to reduce the flight risk of key talent that many are experiencing in the current environment

A great storm that could significantly impact talent is looming for corporate tax departments, according the recent Thomson Reuters Institute 2022 Corporate Tax Survey, bringing with it increased flight risk, challenges to up-skilling existing talent, difficulties in cultivating the technology and leadership skill sets of those next in line, and a lack of commitment to succession planning.

In addition, there is a ripple effect on all of these factors that could spur the downward spiral of all. For example, with no time available to invest in addressing technology and leadership gaps, corporate tax departments are making their lack of technology and leadership experience worse, which is causing a pronounced lack of commitment to succession planning to worsen as well. And while there is currently significant corporate investment in technology to increase the efficiency in workflow and output to better deal with the expanding multi-jurisdictional tax requirements, it is not enough.

Without proactive efforts by corporate tax managers to address the top three drivers of corporate tax employees’ decision to leave employers — feelings of under-appreciation, lack of career progression, and dissatisfaction with corporate culture, according to the report — problems will only get worse in the future. As the red warning light continues to flash on talent, corporate tax managers would be smart to take these actions to stem flight risk and address their tax teams biggest concerns.

Build a rewarding team micro-culture 

Creating a supportive and inclusive micro-culture at work is a critical step no matter if your team is currently working in the office, remotely, or hybrid mix of the two. Unhappiness with company culture is one of the top three reasons tax department employees cite as their motivation to seek another job. Yet, many corporate tax leaders and managers continue to view culture through a pre-pandemic lens that is attached to physical space and referred to as the articulated culture. However, lived culture — the daily occurrence of specific performance outcomes and implied behaviors that drive norms of what is rewarded, permissible, intentionally ignored, and penalized in a work environment — is much more important to many professionals. Moreover, a lived micro-culture exists in the hearts and minds of your team, and you, as the manager, have great influence over this micro-culture.

To build the best microculture for your team, it is critical to make monthly attempts to give the team more clarity on how their individual and collective roles fit into the overall organization’s strategy; and grant them autonomy by being open to work preferences in terms of when, where, and how they want to work within a sensible framework that makes sense for their life.

Find out each team member’s career goals

One of the simplest ways to lower the threat of attrition from valuable team members is to build connection, especially on a personal level with those who report to you. One way to do this is to ask the following questions monthly or at least quarterly:

      • Do you know how you want to grow in this organization? Do you desire to lead it one day? Or would you prefer to remain a valuable individual contributor? And it is okay not to know yet.
      • If there is one way that you could grow your skill set this year in an ideal world, what would it be?
      • What can I do to better ensure you have a rewarding career here?

Say “thank you” often

Flight risk of those next in line for leadership (usually those between the ages of 41 and 50) is at 30%, while it averages 28% across all of corporate tax professionals, according to the report. Showing daily appreciation for the contributions of team members and for those who are consistently working hard to deliver for the company is the easiest way to reduce flight risk. Saying thank you doesn’t require extra time or resources — it simply requires intention and effort during your normal course of meetings and work.

To promote further engagement, ask one of the following questions consistently on a monthly basis in each of your one-on-one meetings with your team members:

      • How are you really doing?
      • How is your workload?
      • How is the mix between being in the office and remote going?
      • What can I do today, next month, and next year to ensure you have a rewarding career here?

Ideally, keep track of when you ask each question during the first few months to ensure proper habit formation, better respond to employees’ feedback, and build a positive and appreciative micro-culture. Taking these actions won’t do much to address the fact that almost two-thirds (64%) of survey respondents said the biggest obstacle preventing them from achieving their professional development goals was “lack of time,” but it might reduce the chance that your flight risk indicator will be flashing red.

That in turn, may give you some breathing room to work on the medium-term challenges that your corporate tax team faces, while giving your most valuable team members a micro-culture that better shows their appreciation for the work they do.

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