The tax function is changing and so are people working within it
The tax function is changing. The people working within it need to change too. Only with a shift in skills sets and approach can they make the most of changes in the environment to meet the business’s tax needs – needs that are evolving dramatically with the greater focus on companies’ tax affairs from the public, the media, and tax authorities.
Consider first the disruptive changes in the finance and tax environment. Offshoring to shared service centres continues apace, with these centres taking on more tax work. The increase in outsourcing means more tax compliance is being taken on by a dedicated service provider. Then consider data. Analytics are being used today to gain insights that were simply not possible just a year or so ago. Today’s tax function needs the leadership to tie these factors together: to upskill tax professionals and show the greater opportunity around tax for decision making to be improved.
As with any change involving people, this needs to be addressed with sensitivity. Yes, these factors bring immense opportunity. But if their impact on the operating model is not managed carefully, they can feel intimidating and threatening.
The message should be clear: talent is as important as ever. If people can be inspired to thinking differently and not settle for old ways of working but seek better information and insights, and foster a spirit of stronger recommendations, then the whole business will benefit.
This requires a careful analysis of what skills the team has, and what can be built on. Some of the tax function will need to instigate relationships with the business – to explain the relevance and importance of tax, to get leaders in the business to understand what might need tax involvement, to foster an environment where the tax people have a key seat at the table. Some people are naturally more proactive and enjoy engaging with others, so these should be encouraged to be the business-facing types.
Meanwhile, as technology takes over more of the tax function, review the talent pool to see which people can use the information and analysis that the technology brings and create value with it. Can they find trend and insights that help others make business decisions? Or can they engage with tax authorities as these demand ever more detailed and real-time data?
Tomorrow’s tax team will be much smaller and more tightly formed than that of today. Centralisation, technology and operating model changes will lead to headcount reductions; there is no point in shying away from this. However, the chances are that some of the team members will be more dynamic, more progressive and have better honed soft skills and higher emotional intelligence. Not everyone in the tax function will need to have these characteristics, but more of them than is the case today will need to – and the leaders most certainly will.
To build this team, heads of tax need to get better feedback on what’s required from those they serve in the business. They need to take a long, hard look at the senior team to see whether they have the right fit: if not, it might be time to take some tough decisions and to bring in fresh blood. And they should not confine their search to tax professionals. A strong leader with an MBA might be a good addition to the team, someone who understands tax but who brings good business skills and business thinking to the team.
None of this will happen in isolation. Senior tax professionals need to talk among themselves to find out what other companies are doing. Collaboration will help inspiration. Once a tax director understands the art of the possible, they can go about a journey of change and inspire their team to be part of that.
Our advice is, be brave about this. And think laterally: engage other leaders in the business to think tax about their every transaction, deal or project. Only this way can the tax function make its voice heard in the business and show how it can bring value to the table.
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