Commentary From Crisis Management Expert Edward Segal, Author of the Award- Winning Book Crisis Ahead: 101 Ways to Prepare for and Bounce Back from Disasters, Scandals, and Other Emergencies (Nicholas Brealey)
The ability to successfully manage expectations can help deflect criticism that can lead to a crisis for organizations. It can also put an ongoing crisis into perspective and create understanding or sympathy for what the organization— and their leaders—are going through.
IRS Commissioner Charles P. Rettig may have had this crisis management best practice in mind when he posted an op-ed on Yahoo Money recently In an apparent effort to help put the issues the agency is facing this year in perspective, he noted that the IRS is confronting enormous challenges related to the pandemic and years of underfunding by Congress.
The tax collecting agency already has at least some public support for its activities. Last September, The Hill reported that, “About two-thirds of registered voters favor boosting the IRS’s budget to increase tax enforcement on high-income taxpayers, which President Biden has proposed as a way to help pay for Democrats’ multitrillion-dollar social spending plan, according to a recent University of Maryland poll.”
Rettig wrote in his article that, “We want to do more, but we face major challenges. Over the past decade, the IRS budget has been cut by nearly 20%.
“The agency today has as few employees as it did in the 1970s, despite a 60% increase in the United States population during that time and an unprecedented increase in responsibilities. While more than 90% of the over 160 million individual returns are filed electronically, the remaining people who file on paper lead to millions of time-intensive, manually processed paper returns.”
An important part of managing expectations is explaining what you are doing to address the crisis.
Rettig said in the op-ed that, “The IRS is operating without stable, multi-year funding in place, which creates additional impediments to our efforts to deal with our current situation.
“However, we have taken extraordinary measures to work through unprocessed returns and correspondence, including mandatory overtime by IRS employees, creating and redirecting surge teams to address the inventories, temporarily suspending certain automated compliance notices and, where possible, modernizing operating systems to accelerate the manual processing of inventories.
He observed that, “For the current tax season, the IRS workforce has already delivered more than four million refunds worth nearly $10 billion just through Feb. 4. And yet millions are waiting for their returns to be processed, and many won’t be able to reach us when they call with questions this filing season. This is frustrating for taxpayers and for us.”
Asking For Help
Rettig ended the article with a plea for help.
“The reality at the IRS is that we know we need to do better, we’re committed to doing better, and we are trending in a positive direction. Our employees are doing everything they can.
“But we need help. As many IRS leaders have stated for most of the past decade, without long-term, predictable funding, the IRS will continue to be hamstrung, failing to provide the experience that taxpayers deserve,” he concluded.
Advice For Business Leaders
It remains to be seen what impact Rettig’s effort to manage expectations will have. But one thing is certain: if you don’t try, you are guaranteed to fail.
Was his op-ed part of a campaign to generate understanding and sympathy for the challenges the IRS continues to face? Stay tuned.
Edward Segal is a crisis management expert, consultant and the bestselling author of the award-winning Crisis Ahead: 101 Ways to Prepare for and Bounce Back from Disasters, Scandals, and Other Emergencies (Nicholas Brealey). Order the book at https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B0827JK83Q/ref=dbs_a_def_rwt_bibl_vppi_i0
Segal is a Leadership Strategy Senior Contributor for Forbes.com where he covers crisis-related news, topics and issues. Read his recent articles at https://www.forbes.com/sites/edwardsegal/?sh=3c1da3e568c5.