3 Things Your Business Should Learn from the IRS…

So, it looks like the IRS got caught for targeting certain groups based on political affiliations, largely conservative. And while some claim that politics had no motive, it sure looks that way. Now, the advice you take away from the IRS debacle shouldn’t be that you should just avoid having “patriot” in your business’ name or that you shouldn’t seek non-profit status or anything like that. Instead, I think there are some good management and procedural lessons to take away:

  1. Nearly any business coach, professor, consultant, etc. will advise that you craft a mission statement to guide your business’ activities and help guide your employees in their everyday decisions. Well, the IRS has the following mission statement according to its website: “Provide America’s taxpayers top quality service by helping them understand and meet their tax responsibilities and enforce the law with integrity and fairness to all.” Arguably, the agency may have missed this by a notch or two. So, lesson number one – FOLLOW YOUR MISSION STATEMENT. You should not only have one, but you should follow it. Set goals and benchmarks so that there’s some measure as to how well you’re doing. And employees shouldn’t feel like machines; get them involved! With more folks on the same page, following the same mission, you have a lesser chance that a few will get off track and set you on a course for embarrassing disaster.
  2. Acknowledge mistakes when mistakes are made. In the latest coverage of the IRS’ handling of, at the very least, a severe lack of judgment and oversight, it seems a common answer to questioning about the mistakes, is some form of ‘I dunno,’ (paraphrasing pretty liberally, of course). Whether you have one employee or 1,000, at some point mistakes will be made – and sometimes those mistakes will be hugely embarrassing blunders. And you can’t just pretend nothing happened or just try to pass the blame. The buck stops with you whether it was your mistake or not. The mistake, while problematic in itself, is only one part. How you handle it is really the test. Your employees should never have to make guesses as to what to do when a mistake happens. If you don’t have guidelines or a structure that allows for open, honest communication to deal with blunders, then I’d say get ready for some embarrassing moments somewhere down the line. So, lesson two – take the time to develop procedures and provide the proper leadership so that your employees know what is expected when a problem comes up. Most mistakes are learning opportunities—even the big blunders can be useful with proper handling.
  3. Know what the hell’s going on in your own business. As I mentioned, it seems that so many people in the IRS just keep with the ‘I dunno’ refrain. Well, sure, that may be true, but why? And in your business, if you don’t know what’s going on at ground level then you aren’t steering the ship, it is steering you. No, you shouldn’t be preoccupied with making widgets, you should be focused on growing your business. But, that said, if you don’t have a clue what’s going on with those employees, you are setting yourself up for some real pain down the road. Your employees should know who you are and should know your expectations. That way, no confusion – no one is making up policies and work-flow procedures that are off course. And if they are, you can get it set right before everything blows up. So, lesson three – take time to know what’s going on in your own business. Take time to be a leader and set the right course.

So, in conclusion, if you decide that these lessons are nothing but a bunch of bologna, that’s fine. In reality, not listening to this advice probably won’t land you testifying before Congress. However, it may just land you in an embarrassing news article or, at the very least, sitting at home without a business to worry about. Of course, it may just land you in a lawyer’s office – paying big bucks to clean up the mess in litigation…