Posted by: danielrashke | June 7, 2018

The Fine Arts of Finance

18-TASC-0008-CEO-Blog-Content-Marketing_MFA_736x229_v1The conventional wisdom in the business world is that the best way to hire someone who will help you succeed and grow is to look for an MBA.

After all, MBAs have “a head for business” and the skill set necessary to jump in and start contributing.

But now a lot of business owners and CEOs are questioning that logic. I’m one of them. It’s not that MBAs aren’t valuable. The point is that with the world changing so quickly, innovation and creativity are essential in every aspect of a business, from product development to finance. So along with recruiting qualified MBAs, it’s time for businesses to look for a different kind of candidate.

Recently, at an event hosted by University of Wisconsin-Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank, I met a gentleman who told me he believed the MFA (Master of Fine Arts) was the new MBA. He pointed out that in theater, for example, you learned how to direct people, how to play a specific role, and how to collaborate both creatively and on practical aspects like building sets and setting lights. The more I thought about his argument, the more I saw that the skills necessary to put on a show weren’t all that different from those necessary for business success and innovation.

In fact, I realized that my own company had benefited from an employee’s arts background. Our Chief Operations Officer, Michael Herman, got his undergraduate degree in theater. One day Michael and I were discussing my plan to create change within TASC and he pointed out that when you want to bring about significant change in a company, you need to create a “saga”—a story that explains why the change is necessary and beneficial—or else you risk creating a disruptive “drama” in your workforce. This was a perspective that came directly out of his theater background, and it made perfect sense to me.

We tend to think that finance and fine art are completely different things. But as I realized when I wrote both terms on the smartboard in our office, they share most of the same letters. I consider that a pretty accurate metaphor for how much they overlap in the real world.

The idea that “the MFA is the new MBA” first started appearing about ten years ago, and it has gained steam among business thought leaders ever since. Harvard Business Review pointed out that MFA grads have important “soft” business skills such an ability to accept criticism, an interest in studying motivations of people, and an understanding of the importance of engaging the audience. Inc. magazine’s online “Brandview” points out that “reason alone—the MBA toolset—can diagnose the issue, but not discover new ways to solve it, to radically recreate a company’s business model for real innovation.” That takes creativity.

I’m not arguing that the answer to innovation in business is to hire only MFAs. It’s just as important to have MBAs who think like MFAs. This spring we hired a new Chief Financial Officer, Scott Lane. Scott has an incredible business resume and a traditional business education, with a BBA and an MBA. He’s a first-class financial guy. But he’s also a very creative thinker. Instead of accepting “business as usual,” Scott put together his own approach to creating and fostering business partnership. He has brought us a perspective you wouldn’t necessarily expect from your typical CFO. Even if you’re not lucky enough to have a “Scott,” you can still foster creativity by implementing tools like design thinking, where you start by asking what customers [internal or external] need and then work backwards toward a product or solution (versus asking, “What can we sell?”).

As I recently noted during a speaking engagement, TASC is a 40-year-old company. As companies go that’s old. And we don’t want to be old. So it’s essential for us to create a culture that thinks creatively about what we can do next. I believe bringing MFAs and MFA thinking to Finance and the rest of business is key to keeping our businesses alive and vital, especially through periods of intense change.

Posted by: danielrashke | May 3, 2018

Managing In the Gray

managing in the gray book imageSeveral years ago, TASC was faced with the kind of decision we don’t encounter every day.

It concerned a regulation that left a lot of room for interpretation. We wanted to act in a way that would bring the most benefit to our customers. And we saw a lot of potential upside to going in a certain direction. But there was also a potential downside. The best course of action just wasn’t clear.

What was clear, however, was that our usual decision-making process wouldn’t cut it. Navigating this “Gray Area” required a more innovative approach. We had to weigh risk and benefit, consider how we would position our decision to stakeholders and others, and more.

After a lot of thinking about this challenge, I came up with a short list of questions to help guide us. These proved so valuable that from that point forward they became ingrained as part of the TASC process for making what I termed “gray area decisions.”

So imagine my surprise when recently I discovered a book that recommended a nearly identical approach. In Managing in the Gray: 5 Timeless Questions for Resolving Your Toughest Problems at Work, Joseph L. Badaracco, a professor of business ethics at Harvard Business School, explains how the right questions can help CEOs and other business leaders navigate tricky terrain where it seems every possible decision is potentially problematical.

Badaracco confirmed my belief that working through gray area problems requires us to go beyond traditional business thinking and to wrestle with “hard profound insights about human nature, our common life together, and what counts as a good life.”

His first question, “What are the net consequences?” asks leaders to consider which decision would promote “the greatest happiness for the greatest number of people.” To do that, we have to understand our own limitations. When it comes to a gray area problem, no one can “quickly see” how things will play out or “the full consequences of a complex, uncertain decision.” We have to put aside our impulse to “forecast the future” and focus on process. That involves getting the right people in the room and banishing both groupthink and bossthink.

Many CEOs and business owners might be tempted to answer Badarraco’s second question—“What are my core obligations?”—with a single word: “profitability.” But the author insists (and I agree) that it’s essential to be able to look hard at the economics involved and past them. The same applies to your concern for stakeholders. The picture needs to be bigger. Maybe there’s something wrong that you feel needs to be addressed. How about the perspective of someone on the outside? Is there a decision outsiders might find extremely objectionable, even hateful? This question is all about examining your obligations not only as a business executive but also as a human being. All the while we need to remind ourselves that we’re not doing this exercise for its own sake. Our objective is to gain actionable insights.

Question three is “What will work in the World.” This is about realism and pragmatism. That includes recognizing that while most of the people around you are “solid citizens,” you could well run up against the “brilliantly devious” and “inept and confused.” You have to look honestly at the self-interest of all concerned (yourself included). You also have to ask how resilient you and your plan will be in the face of pushback or controversy. You want to stay flexible, but also be willing to play “hardball,” even if you’d prefer not to.

“Who are we?” is the author’s fourth question. This is another way of asking: “Is it Defensible?” In short, can you stand up before a group of people and defend your decision with conviction and in a way that’s consistent with your values both as a company and an individual?

Badaracco’s last question is “What can I live with?” This acknowledges that your best possible option might not be ideal. What can you live with as a leader? As a manager? As a person? “Gray area problems,” writes the author, “…test competence and character. They are the intersection of work and life.” Although to this point you have been working collaboratively with your team, you will probably find it valuable to spend time alone, examining your answers to the previous questions. Then you “make the decision, explain it, and move ahead.”

I’m convinced that business leaders can benefit from this kind of process. Policy makers probably could as well. Many of our most pressing social and political problems are gray area challenges. The first step in finding answers could be asking the right questions.

Posted by: danielrashke | March 14, 2018

TAX AVOIDANCE – Taking the Better Route

shutterstock_306123635_032018_blog_legtax

If the option to pay a higher rate to get somewhere quicker existed, many would choose to do so, particularly when time is of the utmost importance.

But what if time is not an issue, you could arrive at the same destination, and for FREE – without breaking the law – one could circumvent the “expensive” route and take a nearby route that costs nothing.

A great example of this “to pay or not to pay” situation is laid out in an essay titled “Thoughts on Legitimate Tax Avoidance” by Louis Brandeis (1856-1941):

I live in Alexandria, Virginia. Near the Supreme Court chambers is a toll bridge across the Potomac. When in a rush, I pay the dollar toll and get home early. However, I usually drive outside the downtown section of the city and cross the Potomac on a free bridge.
“This bridge was placed outside the downtown Washington, D.C. area to serve a useful social service: getting drivers to drive the extra mile to help alleviate congestion during rush hour.
“If I went over the toll bridge and through the barrier without paying the toll, I would be committing tax evasion.
“If, however, I drive the extra mile outside the city of Washington and take the free bridge, I am using a legitimate, logical and suitable method of tax avoidance, and I am performing a useful social service by doing so.
“For my tax evasion, I should be punished. For my tax avoidance, I should be commended.
“The tragedy of life is that so few people know that the free bridge even exists!

Jackie Jacobs, CEO of the Columbus Jewish Foundation adds her thoughts to Brandeis’ essay describing how the act of choosing a free bridge over a toll bridge dating back to the early 1900’s still resonates today. It demonstrates the simplicity of legitimate tax avoidance that can be embraced by everyone:
There are free bridges located within the Internal Revenue Code which allow you to legitimately avoid unnecessary taxes…the key is to know where to find them.” (Ohio Jewish Chronicle, March 26, 2015)

The “free bridge” described above by Brandeis lends itself to a challenge we have now: Navigating the tax code legally and using the “free bridge” whenever possible. Time is of the essence with tax season upon us and President Trump’s attempt to simplify tax reform proving to be a challenge.

So how exactly did we find ourselves in this situation?

Over the years, unpredictable rules and legislation, along with hundreds of products from hundreds of companies, have brought both complexity and confusion to the Third Party Benefits Administration industry that began with the intention of simplicity. It’s an unfortunate truth – but, it doesn’t mean businesses cannot help themselves to a solution.

As a taxpaying community (citizens, employees & employers) need to take action by taking advantage of the tax code. It goes beyond learning and sitting still; becoming informed is not enough. You need to ACT.

TASC exists to take action and help businesses and employees get the most out of finding and going the extra mile to use the “free bridge.”

But how?

While digital and online technology programs (think TurboTax) continue to grow there is never going to be a replacement for the human element when navigating the waters of tax code here in the United States. That “human element” is the key to helping identify and optimize every option possible when it comes to legitimate tax avoidance. We can find these elements present in individuals such as the tax preparer or the insurance broker to the call center or service representative. But people undervalue the value of these resources.

The truth still stands – tax EVASION still must be punished, just as Justice Brandeis stated in the article.

But tax AVOIDANCE should be commended. And with the help of human elements, many more of you can take advantage of the “free bridge” of legitimate tax avoidance by knowing where to look and how to navigate the murky waters and complication of the tax code.

TASC is at the ready to simplify and maximize your tax avoidance efforts.

 

 

shutterstock_106660388Looking back on 2017, there is nothing I am more proud of than TASC’s impact on the community through our employees. Giving — of mind, heart, time, and money — is woven into the fabric of our organization.

In 2017 alone, TASC pledged over $1.5 million in grants to charities, and our employees volunteered over 6,500 hours.

So how did we get to this point?

A culture of giving can create a virtuous cycle for any organization, large or small. Your reputation for community impact will help attract caring, motivated employees, who will dive into your giving programs, creating a highly engaged workforce and incredible impact in your community. At TASC, we use our culture to tell our story, helping us continue to bring in more customers and the best employees.

Philanthropy isn’t just a nice thing to do. It should be part of your business strategy to live at the convergence of social and economic benefit. We approach the movement of corporate social responsibility with esteem. However, our belief is the model should be about shared social responsibility. Meaning, a collective effort exists between employers, employees, and charities. The heavy lift shouldn’t fall solely on the employer – it’s also about engaging the workforce and community.
So many approaches exist to develop a culture of philanthropy that it can be hard to know where to begin. Starting simple, especially if you have limited resources, is all you need. For example, paid volunteer time is a proven way to empower your employees to give back. You can further incentivize a philanthropic mindset by using a program that donates an hourly rate to the organizations your employees volunteer at once they exceed their paid volunteer time – many times referred to as Dollars for Doers.

Modelling philanthropy from the top is another must to ensure the culture is lived out. Volunteering time alone is a great thing. Even more impactful is to give your talent and expertise. When that happens, you’ll see a greater return for everyone, including the volunteer.

This past year, my 10-year term on the board of directors the United Way of Dane County came to an end. During that time I led the 2015 annual campaign to record-breaking success, drawing in $19.54 million in donations. I helped developed strategy and operational plans while serving as chair of the Self-Reliance and Independence Community Solution Team. I created “Your United Way,” a special campaign targeting non-traditional United Way donors to give one-time major gifts. And I showed up again and again — over three years on the Campaign Cabinet, I made more than 125 in-person CEO meetings, media visits, speaking engagements, and recruitment calls.

The United Way has long been a champion of workplace giving, and has helped establish a culture of philanthropy at many companies. I wanted to give my time to the United Way because their approach serves a critical role of taking resources plus thought leadership (both volunteered and paid); together those two things equal a more significant impact together than they would on their own in solving some of society’s greatest needs through our communities.

Anyone can create this kind of culture in the workplace. You don’t need to be a Fortune 500 company to help shoulder the burden of our shared social responsibility. Even if you’re a pint-sized operation with just five employees, you can start with one volunteer day, or one donation matching program, or offer a service in-kind.

That’s how we built the incredible culture of giving that we have here at TASC. We didn’t start out with a dozen programs, but we added programs as our success in the industry grew and our employees multiplied.

As we move further into 2018, I’d like to leave you with one thought.

If not you, then who? We all share the responsibility of caring for our communities. We cannot shrug it off and leave it to companies that are big enough, or profitable enough, or to nonprofits, or to the government. We need to join hands and give our time, our money, our hearts, and our minds.

Posted by: danielrashke | December 21, 2017

Why TPAs Must Hire Leaders in Cybersecurity

A few months ago I talked about the importance of investing in cybersecurity with a systematic and thorough approach. Besides stepping up your level of security, I advised you to create a rigorous crisis management plan that’s regularly reviewed, tested, and updated. And while these technical solutions are important, your approach to the human side of cybersecurity is also a vital part of the equation that determines your success when responding to new threats.

Before you put a plan in place or invest in any new tools, be sure you have the right team in place. The occasional security audit and outside security service cannot do what a mature and dedicated security team does: know the business, constantly monitor threat levels, and swiftly respond to challenges and crises.

A recent cybersecurity threat intelligence report makes my message more urgent than ever. According to the report, at more than $37 billion in assets, Health Savings Accounts (HSAs) look like gold mines to today’s criminals, with fraudsters and hackers now zeroing in on accounts they deem likely to be the most valuable. Especially vulnerable are account holders who fail to check their balances regularly, meaning fraud can go undetected for months.

In this watch-your-back atmosphere, third-party administrators like TASC are at a higher risk than ever. And this is why we’ve been investing more and more into our security program. As part of this commitment, we took a few big steps…

We hired an experienced security professional to lead development of a robust program that can respond to new threats as they arise. Tasked with driving the strategy and vision for our security program, our new Director of Information Security, Riad Armo has already created a charter document that describes our security program and how it fits into our organization. And because cybersecurity is not a one-person job, we have also boosted our security team with four additional security engineers and coordinators.

Now that I’ve shared what we’ve done at TASC, what about you? Cybersecurity requires far more than a suite of high-tech monitoring tools you buy from a vendor, far more than junior-level staff working under the IT department. Yet all too often business owners fall for impressive product demos, spend a lot of money on tools, and then enjoy a false sense of security. Only with a strong team in place to manage the tools you’ve invested in can you be sure the countless technical settings are appropriate, adequate, and configured to respond to a security landscape that’s ever-changing and bound to remain so.

A mature cybersecurity program demands a fine-tuned team and deserves the same respect and access to funding as any other department. The severity of the threats we face demands nothing less.

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