These days everyone seems to be grumpy. Some grumpier than others, brick-throwing, face-punching grumpy. Other people are sigh-and-suffer-in-silence grumpy. I am the latter variety. I was raised to be uncomplaining and self-reliant, and “making a fuss” about anything was frowned on. Therefore it takes a serious matter to put me in a seriously grumpy, seriously worried state. One such serious matter is taxation. Taxes. The Canada Revenue Agency – Agence du revenu du Canada, to be precise. But my panic is absolutely not because of the CRA. Read on to find out why.
The horrible revenue agency (not the CRA)
In the faraway country, not in North America, where I was born and raised, the national revenue service was a big problem. It was then, and still is – bad, but it is best of the bad bunch of government departments. It was inefficient, malfunctioning, and staffed with incompetent people. I sometimes thought they must be counting on their fingers to get things so wrong. Most citizens would have had, at some point, to go to an office of the agency like a lamb to slaughter, and sit and wait and wait until some idiot person totally mixed up their documentation and then demanded an outrageous sum of money. I never got refunds. Money back?! Ha!!! You’re pulling my leg. It got to a point where I would feel physically sick at the mere mention of the name of the agency. (The agency has the same acronym as that of an infectious disease that was rampant from 2002 to 2004.) It’s best not mentioned. The word “taxes” would make my heart race and that cursed personal tax return form would cause me months of confusion and worry. The worst was the phone calls from the agency. It was always bad news. Always.
Frontline staff that make you feel better
Fast forward ten years to Canada and the CRA. Today, I decided to quit freaking out about taxes. I have spent hours on the phone to the agents of the CRA, and today I had another long phone call. I then realized that I have never, never, but never had a bad experience with the CRA. All the agents I have dealt with have been helpful, well informed, patient (oh, so very patient), explaining all the terms, answering my dumb questions, and staying civil. They have been so polite that I had to up my own level of politeness and start behaving like an adult, not like a screaming toddler. Deep breath, calm down, use brain.
And a system that works
What’s more, the system works. Even a twit like myself can use the CRA website for e-filing and not cause their own finances to collapse. I remember, shortly after starting a new business and making quite a few mistakes with the taxes, that I had to call the CRA. I was immediately in a cold sweat. But the person on the line was so helpful and understanding that I was gob-smacked. I think it might be a somewhat less cordial experience if you were doing tax evasion rather than tax avoidance. But I wouldn’t know since, due to my previous experience, I do neither. I pay up, and I pay as fast as I can.
There is also something to be said for being civil and reasonable: if you are nice, the person you are speaking to will be too. If you are crazy and rude, only a saint will not become abrupt and terse. Their job is hard, so be nice, already. Do unto others, etc.
This situation illustrates a principle of leadership and branding called Krulak’s Law. Recently, Seth Godin published a post about Krulak’s Law, expanding on his point of view in his book, Linchpin: Are You Indispensable?
“The experience people have with your brand is in the hands of the person you pay the least.”
“Act accordingly. (This involves training, trust, responsibility, leadership, dignity, authority, management and investment. It mostly means seeing the front-line people in your organization as priceless assets, not cheap cogs.)” – From Linchpin, by Seth Godin
I fully agree with Godin, who fully agrees with US Army General Charles Chandler Krulak, to whom Krulak’s Law is attributed and from whose writing it was derived. Krulak’s Law, such as it is, comes from the concept of the “Strategic Corporal” developed by Krulak, and explained in his essay, The Strategic Corporal: Leadership in the Three Block War, which appeared in Marines Magazine, Jan. 1999:
“In many cases, the individual Marine will be the most conspicuous symbol of American policy and will potentially influence not only the immediate tactical situation, but the operational and strategic levels as well. His actions, therefore, will directly impact the outcome of the larger operation; and he will become…the Strategic Corporal.” (Quoted in Russell W. Glenn, Rethinking Western Approaches to Counterinsurgency, Routledge, New York, 2015)
From this, the application of Krulak’s Law to business has been derived: “The closer you get to the front, the more power you have over the brand.”
Ergo, frontline staff members are really important. They are linchpins.
General Krulak was writing from a military standpoint, but in the past few months many commentators have compared the crisis of the COVID-19 pandemic to a war situation. (And of course, the word “frontline” as in “frontline staff” was originally a military term.) Krulak’s Law is particularly applicable to customer experience and the services (tertiary) sector of the economy – of which the CRA is an important part. The agency does not only represent itself, but the government of Canada as a whole, and by association, the people of Canada.
The reputation of the CRA is in the hands of the agents on the phone lines and at the desks, dealing with the public. Whatever their pay, they surely deserve a decent wage, and all the stuff mentioned by Seth Godin, above, for building the CRA’s good reputation.
Remember that, managers of big businesses. Remember the “frontline staff” without whom we would not have been able to get through this COVID-19 episode.
Kudos where kudos are due
There are many things people moan about and fight about in this country. But IMHO, Canada Revenue Agency is nothing to get grumpy about. The CRA is all right. They’ve got smart folks who’ll talk reasonably to you. Two things in life are certain – death and taxes. Death cannot be made any easier or better, but in Canada, paying your taxes is made bearable by those faceless but kind-sounding people who are there to help you – and who do actually help you. Taxes are inevitable, pay you will and pay you must, but it’s not through a horrible interaction that leaves you traumatized – far from it, in fact.
No CRA agents were harmed in the writing of this blog post. Nor did the CRA get me to write it. Nor did I get any money from anyone for writing this. I just thought I should give credit where credit is due.