What Does it Mean to be a Leader in the Age of A.I.? -Part 1

By Steven Singer CPA, Partner at GROCO, ssinger@groco.com 510-797-8661

With the advent of artificial intelligence (A.I.) and machine learning, it’s time to re-evaluate how we hire, train and lead our employees.

The ability to do a job faster or cheaper will no longer be what sets an organization apart from its competitors, but rather the ability of organizations and its human component to critically and strategically think for the organization and its customers.

With improved critical thinking, machine learning and A.I., an organization will be able to move faster and more effectively than its competitors making it both more interesting and challenging for its human workforce and valuable to its customers.

In an A.I. environment, co-workers will be expected by its customers and the organization to work in teams, improve communication with customers, come up with original thoughts and strategies, explain how A.I. came to its conclusions and implement their strategies. Objectives of the organization and its customers probably will not change (e.g. enhanced customer and trusted relationships, bottom and top line growth). However, the way the organization uses its human components will change dramatically.

What does it mean to critically think? According to the Foundation for Critically Thinking.org you and your co-workers should be able to:

  • Raise vital questions and problems, formulating them clearly and precisely
  • Gather and assess relevant information, using abstract ideas to interpret it effectively
  • Come to well-reasoned conclusions and solutions, testing them against relevant criteria and standards
  • Thinking open-mindedly within alternative systems of thought, recognizing and assessing, as needs to be, their assumptions, implications, and practical consequences
  • Communicate effectively with others (in teams) in figuring out complex solutions

How to go about implementing and dealing with co-workers who are unfamiliar or unable to cope with the new paradigm?

  • Link their compensation and future to these management objectives so they realize the importance of these new organizational directives.
  • Identify your stars who understand and employ “critical thinking” methods and encourage them to lead by giving them authority and autonomy to do so.
  • Recognize, embrace and communicate this as a cultural shift that will enhance the well- being and livelihood of everyone involved.
  • Be prepared to promote team members that exhibit these skills and counsel out those who can’t adopt.
  • Prioritize these skill sets as a core competency of new hires.
  • Make it as a top goal for your organization
  • Hire the right professionals

Stay tuned for part two!

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Decision Making in Your Family Business: A Guide for Owners

Group decision making is a topic that has spawned many academic studies, books, and white papers.  It is never easy to get a group of human beings to make a decision together.  It’s hard enough for a single individual to make a decision!  Add to the mix more people with their cultural differences, values, needs, desires, positioning, and familial relationships and you’ve got a natural recipe for deadlock.  We are often asked what the best way is for families to make important decisions together.  To answer this, let’s consider some of the overarching goals and pitfalls to avoid when making any major decisions together:

Goals

  • Preserve Familial Relationships
  • Build Cohesion
  • Freedom from political warfare
  • Avoid outside intervention in decision making

Avoid

  • Conflicts and tensions/destruction of family
  • Legal challenges/frustrated family members
  • Marriage Conflict
  • Feeling marginalized with “nothing to lose” thinking
  • Battles and defections

Academia has given us a multitude of models for decision making in organizations and families.  Here are six decision making styles frequently used in family businesses.

  1. Autocratic. The family leader decides unilaterally and announces the decision to everyone else.
  2. Consult. The decision is almost made, but the leader seeks reactions from others before announcing the final decision.
  3. Recommend. The leader solicits input from everyone else before deciding.
  4. Majority. Majority vote with leader having one vote and no veto power.
  5. Consensus. Everyone reaches agreement after discussion.
  6. Delegation. The decision making is delegated to someone with clear parameters of freedom.

Most people, when asked, will say that majority rule is the most fair and proper way to make decisions. Americans naturally believe that our democracy is superior to any other political system ever devised so why not use it in our family? Yet consider how you’d feel after a presidential election if your candidate didn’t win. You’re likely to experience a range of emotions ranging from mildly annoyed to furious.
Now, imagine you’re in the minority in a family or family business decision that affects you on a deeply personal level. What if a decision you strongly disagreed with was forced down your throat against your will? How well would that work in a family setting? Are you starting to see the problem with autocratic and majority decision making styles? Some people or groups of people are inevitably going to be disappointed.

Experience has shown that the best way to make decisions in families is to choose Style #5: Consensus. “What?!”you might be thinking. “How can anyone get anything done? I could never get my family to agree on what to have for dinner,let alone the direction of our business.”Without a doubt, building consensus in a family takes a lot of time, effort, and requires patience and good communication skills, but it’s very much worth the effort!

Consensus is the only one of the five decision making styles that simultaneously builds unity, maintains unity, requires unity, and creates a family of listeners and collaborators.

Nordstrom is a well-known family business that has achieved tremendous success through the use of a consensus style of decision making. For the last 69 years they have had co-presidents, a leadership method that requires unanimous decisions in order to move forward. Given Nordstrom’s history of success and strong brand, that’s quite a recommendation for the consensus style, don’t you think?

‘Who should get a voice in family decision making?
Here are some recommended qualifications to consider when deciding if a family member is ready to be included in major family business decisions:
• Are they emotionally mature?
• Do they contribute to the process?
• Are they flexible?
• Are they informed?
• Are they prepared?
• Are they trusting and trustworthy?
• Are they able to put needs of the group ahead of needs of self?

As you can see, armed with the right tools and the right attitude, family decision making does not need to be contentious. To the contrary, it can be
something that unifies your family while it facilitates decisions that increase the long-term success of the family and its enterprises.

What’s the Biggest Mistake By People Who Work a Side Job?

Everyone wants to make more money. For many that means picking up a side job to earn a little more cash. There are literally hundreds of side jobs out there but most are only good for a few extra dollars. However, there is a danger to doing work on the side if you’re not careful.

If you work as an employee, then you don’t have much to worry about. But if your side gig is something you do as a self-employed worker, then you need to be aware of the tax implications. As it turns out, this is one of the biggest problem areas for people who work side jobs, especially younger people.

The problem is many Americans aren’t reporting this extra income. In fact, according to a recent study from Finder.com, roughly a fourth, 69.8 million, of all Americans who make money from a side job are not reporting it.

That adds up to a large junk of change according to the IRS. The tax agency claims that tax evasion costs the government more than $450 billion a year. Ofcourse, that figure is not all from side job money not being reported. But, the IRS says nearly $215 billion of it is.

That is a lot of money, which is why the IRS takes reporting your side job income seriously. If you get caught not reporting this extra money it could cost you. The IRS can charge you as much as 5 percent each month every month your late paying on those taxes. Furthermore, if you don’t report and pay an accurate amount you could end up paying additional penalties and interest, as well face criminal charges.

So if you walk dogs, repair cars, babysit, do a little writing on the side, or anything else to make a few extra bucks, be sure you report that income to the IRS.

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Where Do Most Americans Fall With Proposed Tax Reform?

Tax reform is coming. At least that’s what we’ve been led to believe for the better part of a year now. Ever since Donald Trump won the election last November, most of the nation has been expecting tax reform. Here we are a year later and we’re still waiting for the president and his administration to deliver on that promise.

However, while it would seem most people favor tax reform, according to recent numbers being floated around, the majority of Americans aren’t in favor of the president’s tax proposals. A new CNN poll reports that 52 percent of Americans oppose the president’s proposals and just 34 percent are for it.

The problem is, according to the numbers, a mere 24 percent of Americans believe they will be better off if the president’s proposals become law. It gets worse for Trump, as 31 percent actually think their tax situation would get worse under the president’s plans.

Americans also feel that the proposals would hurt the country economically, as a whole, with 35 percent saying things would get worse and only 31 percent believing things would improve.

Some of the proposals that have been thrown around include consolidating the number of tax rates to just three instead of the current seven. The president wants to increase the child tax credit and the standard deduction, and axe the alternative minimum tax.

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Top Tips for Becoming More Productive

Unless you happen to be a sloth, everyone wants to be more productive. Productivity is one of the keys to personal and careersuccess. The problem is, many people just aren’t willing to do what it takes to become more productive. Thus, being productive is easier said than done. However, if you really want to make changes, here are some bad habits you need to let go of.

Do you like to surf the Web? Of course, who doesn’t? Unfortunately this is a huge time-killer for a lot of peopleespecially if you do it every time you get animpulse. When you’re busy working on something important and you stop for a quick “surf”, you lose valuable time and you become less productive.

Is it time for another meeting? Meetings seem important on the surface, but how many meetings are really that useful? They typically take up too much of your valuable time, which you could be using to do more important things, like actual work. To be more productive, set a time limit for your meetings and stick to it.

We all love email and it’s a great way to get work done. However, email can be a huge distraction, as well. When you’re working on something important don’t let a new email distract you from your current task. In most cases, the majority of your messages can wait.

Avoid being a perfectionist. If you’re preoccupied with getting everything exactly right, then chances are you will never complete any projects. In some cases, you might not even start them. No one is perfect and you don’t have to be perfect, either.

It may not be easy, but letting go of some of your bad habits will help you become more productive.

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Five Helpful Tips to Be More Productive and Organized

You want to be more organized, right? Most people do. However, there are certain things you need to do in order to get more organized and become more productive. The problem is, many people spend way too much time on tasks of little or no consequence. In other words, we waste valuable time on pointless things.

So what can you do to become more organized and in turn, more productive? Better organization leads to more productivity so you must get organized to really achieve your goals. Start by keeping your desk,and/or office free of clutter.

Straighten things up, tosswhat you don’t need and put things where you know you can find them.You should also clean up at the end of each workday and have everything in order for the next day.

Organized people don’t get caught up in several to-do lists. They have one task sheet and they focus on that. Having multiple to-do lists leads to a cluttered mind and a cluttered workspace, where not much is accomplished.Just like your bills, it’s best to consolidate your tasks into one comprehensive list.

Organized and productive people don’t procrastinate. In fact, they focus on the worst tasks first, so they can get them done and out of the way. Doing this,frees up their minds to focus on more pleasant tasks.

Another bright idea to be more organized is to plan your next day the night before. This not only gives you a focus and purpose for the next day, but it frees you from worrying about everything you have to do the next day and how it will all get done.

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Senate’s Tax Bill Would Raise Taxes on Stock Sales

Capital gains have long been a controversy when it comes to taxes.  Many high net worth individuals use capital gains to make the majority of their money. Because the tax rate on gains from stock sales are much lower than taxes on personal income, this is one of the chief ways wealthy taxpayers avoid paying higher tax rates.

That’s why many groups complain that capital gains need to be taxed at a higher rate. Republicans have never been in favor of this kind of proposal. That’s why it’s quite surprising to see such legislation in the Senate’s tax bill proposal.

To be clear, they haven’t proposed raising the tax rate, but they have added a provision that would increase taxes on many investors, and add an estimated additional $2.7 billion over 10 years to the U.S. Treasury.

The provision would eliminate the “specific identification method” currently in place that allows investors to sale shares that were purchased on a specific date.  That means investors would be forced to sell their oldest shares first, which usually bring in higher capital gains.

So, while the proposal is not technically a tax rate hike, it could definitely lead to investors paying more in taxes on their capital gains. This is not lost on the president and CEO of the Investment Company Institute, Paul Schott Stevens who said: “It would increase significantly the amount of taxable distributions made to investors every year and tie the hands of fund managers as they pursue investment strategies on behalf of savers.”
The plot thickens…

How to Get A Charitable Tax Deduction for Remodeling Your Properties

By Steven Singer, CPA, MS (tax)

If your home or rental property needs remodeling, consider getting a charitable tax contribution by helping a worthwhile cause. Many charities build and renovate homes for the needy. The tax law allows you to take a charitable deduction for donating used building materials removed from your house or rental property when they are used by a qualified organization.

How much you can deduct depends on the fair market value (FMV) of the materials you donate and when you donate them.

AMOUNT OF YOUR CHARITABLE DEDUCTION

• For property held for more than 1 year, you will usually get a deduction of the FMV of the materials donated. If the property was used for business or rental purposes, you must reduce the FMV by any gain (if you sold the property) that is considered ordinary income. This is a simple calculation if you ask your tax advisor.

• For property held less than 1 year, you will usually get a deduction of either the FMV or the cost basis (less any depreciation allowed) of the materials donated, whichever is less.

• There may be limits depending on how much you contribute and your adjusted gross income, but the good news is, you can carry forward any unused deduction to later years.

STEPS NEEDED TO GET A CHARITABLE DEDUCTION

Before you begin your remolding process:

1. Get your licensed contractor to give you two bid quotes. One for deconstructing the space that you are remodeling and another one for demolishing it. Deconstructing the space is more expensive than demolition because fixtures, sheetrock, wood studs and more are taken apart slowly and carefully by hand to recycle every last piece as opposed to demolition where they rip out the materials without any consideration for reusing them (e.g. they just go into the dump).

Deconstruction usually is 1.5 to 2 times more expensive than a demolition process. However, since demotion is only a small part of your remodel, it should not add a large cost to your overall remodel.

2. Find an appraiser that can appraise the reusable materials that result from the “deconstruction” process. Usually they can give you an idea of the FMV per sq. ft. of real property you are remodeling. Appraisal costs range but typically are around $2,000-10,000. They will need to see the materials before they are donated to a charity so they can issue an appraisal report.

3. Consult with your tax advisor. They usually know a qualified appraiser you can use in your area or one can be recommended by the charity to which, you are going to donate the materials.

Your tax advisor should also be able to determine whether it is cost beneficial to consider getting a charitable deduction. For example, if the appraisal cost is $5,000 and the additional contractor cost of deconstruction is $5,000, the donation you must receive must exceed $35,000 to give you a net tax benefit. Some of our clients have obtained charitable benefits of over $100,000.

4. Pick a 501(c)(3) US charity in your area that has as their mission to use the materials in their programs such as Habitat for Humanity.

After your remodeling process:

5. The appraiser will give you a signed appraisal report and an IRS form 8283 signed by both the appraiser and the charity to which, you contributed the material; both must be attached to your tax return.

If these steps are followed correctly, then there is an excellent chance that much of the costs of your next remodel can be claimed as a charitable contribution.

For more information about this and other tax strategies to help you pay only your fair share of taxes, please contact or call Steve at 510-797-8661 X 226 or email him at ssinger@groco.com.

How to Manage and Beat Stress

There are really two kinds of people in the world: people who act and people who wait to be acted upon. Of course, that’s a generalization, but the reality is, most people fall into these two categories.  Some people take control of what happens in their life, while others sit back and let life happen to them.

It’s also interesting to note the difference in how these two groups handle stress.  Those who take control of their lives tend to deal with stress much better than those who allow life to control them. Both groups feel stress and they both feel the negative effects of stress, but they deal with it differently.

Here is how the first group takes control of the situation and manages stress. For starters, they expect change, and they prepare for it. Change is going to happen. It’s a part of life. People who are prepared for it can manage unexpected change more effectively.

People who handle stress well tend to focus on the positive instead of the negative.  For example, they recognize the freedoms they have instead of the limitations they face. Speaking of avoiding negativity, those who manage stress well, avoid negative self-talk. They know that staying negative will not help so they focus on the positive instead.

Successful stress managers also remember to be thankful for what they already have. There are no guarantees, so it’s important to recognize all the good things there are in life. This will improve your mood, lower your stress level, increase your energy and make you even more grateful.

Stress is inevitable, but when you choose to control and manage it, you remain in charge of your life and its outcomes.

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Will Equifax Breach Open Door to Tax Scammers?

The tax season is always ripe with challenges, not the least of which is dealing with another wave of tax scams. Scammers are constantly looking for newer and more deceptive ways to steal your hard-earned money, including your tax refund.

Although, the tax-filing season is still a few months away, there is already a new threat emerging, thanks to the massive data breach that affected nearly half of all taxpayers in the country. Hackers were able to find a breach in Equifax’s security and steal the private information of about 143 million U.S. adults.

What does that mean for taxes? Now that this information is available on the dark web, the chances of your tax refund being hijacked have greatly increased. So what’s the number one thing you can do about it?

Of course, you need to keep a vigilant eye on your credit score and accounts, but you also need to be prepared to file your tax return as early as possible. That’s because if you file your return before a scammer does, they can’t file it for you and steal your refund.

While the IRS and the FTC always recommend filing your taxes early, this coming tax season it will be even more important. According to the FTC, taxpayers should file “as soon as you have the tax information you need, before a scammer can.”

That means you should start preparing now so you’re ready when tax season begins.
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