Estimated reading time: 4 minutes, 58 seconds

For thousands of years, scientists and religious leaders introduced, modified, and later abandoned hundreds of different calendaring models. People take calendaring very seriously. Wars have been fought over the appropriate association of time and measure. There are a few calendars that are still actively referred to in today’s society; such as the astrological, lunar, Gregorian, Chinese, Balinese, Islamic or Jewish.  All these calendars have three things in common, a start date, a means of measuring time in various and cumulative units, and an end date. The units of time may correspond to earthly occurrences, like seasons or astronomical changes. Or they may be very arbitrary based on a governmental or religious edict. Conflict over calendars continues even today. There is one fringe group that seems to still struggle with defining their calendar; the accounting profession.  I believe it is the profession’s undefined calendar that often gets in the way of taking on new initiatives and advancing toward their goals at the same rate as other businesses.  Here’s why . . .

For the most part Western civilization has accepted the Gregorian calendar as its standard for marking time. As a result, most people look at January 1 as their “start” date for the year. There is a psychological boost that comes from throwing out the old calendar and starting fresh. It’s almost as if we give ourselves permission to forgive and forget the past in favor of a more productive future. Some of us are old enough to remember the days before IPhones or Palms when we had “turn a page” non-digital desk top (you know the actual top of your desk) calendars. They were simply brilliant. They never crashed or lost data and you could be guaranteed a “snow storm” on the last day of every year in the downtown area of every major city as thousands of workers would toss out their old calendars.  I am sure it cost the city’s millions in trash clean up but somehow we didn’t care, because the act of “letting go” and starting fresh is so liberating. I’m not sure tossing your digital calendar out the window would have the same effect, however.
But I digress.

If you ask an accountant the question when does your calendar begin? They will transition to a discussion of their FYE. Why? Because, the profession doesn’t work off the same timetable as the rest of the western world.  Now, I know there are seasonal businesses, for whom it makes sense to have a different fiscal year end, but from a planning perspective, from a momentum perspective, nothing beats January 1. Sadly for the profession, they don’t have a January 1 launch equivalent. 

The Gregorian January 1 does not work for the profession because you would have to be crazy to start something of any significance leading up to tax season. That must mean that their real “start date” is immediately following tax season. Hold on a minute, smart firms would not dream of launching a new initiative on April 16, because they know their people are too tired and need a break before attempting anything new. And of course, before firms start anything new they have to organize a partner retreat to develop (or revisit last year’s unfinished list) of initiatives to focus on. It usually takes till the middle of May to early June to get all the partners (and key managers) all in the same place at the same time.

Okay so it’s now mid June and the partners have met and reacquainted themselves with their strategic priorities. But it doesn’t make much sense to launch anything at that time because everyone is on vacation. And then August 15 creates a welcome distraction from having to start something new. And before you know it, it’s the first of September before everyone is back in the office and ready to launch something.

But wait, nothing happens until after Labor Day and then you have the 15th of September to get through. So that makes September 16 a great “start date” right? Not really, because everyone is re-trenched in their mini tax season leading up to October 15th. So that makes October 16h a great start date, right? Maybe, as long as you allow for some PE catch up and internal training. If you manage the calendar just right you might get 4 weeks of focus time between mid October and Thanksgiving. Then December 1 or thereabouts all those year-end meetings make it difficult to move any initiatives forward. Then there are the holidays to contend with and the extra few days of vacation you try to squeeze in between Christmas and New Year’s. 

The profession’s calendar is not altogether new or unique. It seems to be based on tax cycles just like the Indiction calendar that was used in the middle ages to specify the position of a year in a 15-year taxation cycle.  It was introduced by Emperor Constantine the Great on 1 September and continued in use until 1806. Like the profession’s calendar, Constantine’s Indiction calendar had no astronomical significance or correlation to what goes on in the rest of the world.

So when does the profession’s calendar begin? What is their momentum building “start date”? I am not sure they have one. I think each firm should get everyone together to pick a date that is their official “New Year’s Day – start date.” But wait, it will take until after October 15 before we can get everyone in the same room. Never mind. 

Edi Osborne, CEO of Mentor Plus, has been a leader in training and consulting to the accounting profession for nearly 20 years. Recently named as one of the TOP 25 Thought Leaders in Public Accounting, Ms. Osborne is dedicated to helping firms make the transition from a "service centric" traditional accounting focus to a "client centric" advisory services culture. For more info go to: http://www.mentorplus.com/.

Last modified on Sunday, 02 June 2013
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