Include clients in your transformation journey: ATO

Many firms undergoing transformation overlook including their clients in the process, and ultimately end up imposing their changes without external consultation.

Transforming organisations should actively involve all stakeholders in the journey, ATO deputy commissioner James O’Halloran tells CPA Congress in Melbourne. And that includes clients.

By Tony Kaye

Firms undergoing cultural and operational transformation should actively engage with all layers of their organisation as part of the process, and that includes bringing clients along with them on the journey.

According to Australian Taxation Office (ATO) deputy commissioner, superannuation, James O’Halloran, early engagement with key stakeholders is critical.

Many firms undergoing transformation overlook including their customers in the process, and ultimately end up imposing their changes without external consultation, O’Halloran told CPA Congress Melbourne.

“Something that’s often forgotten is that we all have clients… and you’ve got to bring your clients along with you,” he said.

Cultural transformation at the ATO

In describing the ATO’s own cultural and operational transformation project, O’Halloran said it was important for the organisation to fully understand its multifaceted roles as a facilitator, educator, regulator and enforcer – as well as being an adviser.

“We work with the community to promote trust and confidence in us, and in our systems,” he said. 

“But we’re judged by how we behave and act. Sometimes it’s perception, sometimes it’s reality, and sometimes of course it doesn’t matter whether it’s perception or reality, but there’s a standing message, like any company that is big or small, by which you are judged.”

O’Halloran said it was also important for organisations, including the ATO, to remain focused on key objectives without becoming distracted by day-to-day issues.

“You have to set what your cultural values are, call them out, apply them, and not use them to solve one problem but lose your compass as you go along the way.”

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Regulation and culture

He said the Royal Commission into Misconduct in the Banking, Superannuation and Financial Services Industry provided clear examples for any regulatory agency.

“There will be people who will want regulators to go to the left, or to the right, whatever that means. From my point of view, and it’s certainly something the Commissioner is very keen on in our culture, it’s important to ensure we respond to things, not react to them.

“You know you always need a spectrum, you need a staff and interactions that are balanced and informed and aligned with a consistency of focus, and not reacting to the bushfires of the day.”

O’Halloran said firms should not be afraid to map out their transformation journey without having a rigid strategy in place.

“Sometimes when you go out early and talk to people before you’ve formed a view, you actually come away with a better view of what the problem is you think you’re trying to fix.

You can actually have a discovery conversation before anyone has got skin in the game.”

Involving staff in cultural change

O’Halloran said cultural change is a very tangible process, involving all people across an organisation.

“You’ve got to get people’s heads in the right place, you’ve got to get at least their work heart in the right place, and they’ve actually got to be attracted by it.”

He noted that the essential element in transformation for any organisation is being well prepared. 

“How prepared is the organisation, your board of directors, yourselves, and your clients? It requires you to plan for success.

“I find it useful as a practitioner to keep focused with people, to ask, ‘When this works, what are you going to do with it? How prepared are you? What are your settings, your rules, and what risks are you prepared to take?’”

Read next: ATO seeks to streamline STP for small entities


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