The IRS's Opportunity Window is Open

When a disruption first occurs, an Opportunity Window opens. The window opens every time your customers are dissatisfied. When they are disgruntled, people want badly for things to be better and this desire is a force you can harness.

The IRS is the U.S. government agency responsible for tax collection and tax law enforcement. The current investigation of the agency making headlines invites the question: How could the IRS  exploit the current Opportunity Window?

Whenever people become disgruntled, vexed, annoyed angry, or irritated, you should begin to hear opportunity knocking. The more intense, the greater the force for change. The trick is to channel it into positive change.

The first step is to understand the root of the disapprobation. In the case of the IRS, the reason for discontent is clear: the perception that there have been inappropriate singling out of Tea Party groups by the IRS and the subsequent lack of action as superiors became aware of the transgressions.

As you systematically explore and identify the causes of discontent, the outlines of solutions begin to appear. In this case people want (a) to trust the government, especially the IRS, (b) to see the IRS as an instrument for the public good, and (c) to trust leadership all the way to the White House – i.e., they want to know that regardless of partisan posturing the President serves all the people all the time.

We know the IRS is going to make it through this, one way to another. With that in mind, the question they should be asking inside the IRS is how do we channel all of this upset to get the greatest possible outcome for everyone involved, including those who are upset?

Anyone in customer service knows that when the customer is angry the potential for bonding is at its highest. That is why great customer service organizations train their front line staff to engage with the customer, beginning with what the customer values most.

Tactic 1: there should be a phalanx of smart, savvy customer service professionals moving out into the angry mob finding out more, listening hard, engaging the discontent, and bringing what they learn back to HQ.  These people should have two priorities in this order: (1) build trust and (2) gather information.

Building trust is first because if you have trust and information is bad or inadequate, you can go back and get what you need. But, if you don’t have trust, it doesn’t matter whether you are right or not, you have already lost.

Building trust is about doing a good job of listening and it is about listening to the right people. Good listening is not about arguing or justifying. Instead it is about understanding, compassion, and empathizing.  The right people are the influencers and thought leaders among those who are angry, the people whose opinions shape the thoughts and actions of the affected parties.

Tactic 2: Gathering information is done so you can analyze what you learn. You want to discern what is at stake and the values of the people who hold the capacity to pass judgement. This is challenging work and needs to be done by a neutral party. It’s quite difficult in situations like this because there is so much fear at play. The IRS should be hiring an outside firm that can look at the situation clearly and deliver news – good, bad, or ugly – without bias.

Tactic 3: Of course, in the midst of the battle everything is messy. It is easy to feel pulled apart by ever expanding numbers of stakeholders, and lose your compass. To compliment the complexity there should be an IRS team at work with clear objectives stated simply like: emerge from this crisis with our position in the public eye strengthened.

This is an American crisis, and with the right strategy and tactics the IRS has the opportunity to make our country stronger. I hope this is what they are trying to do right now.

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Innovation for SequestrationSeth Kahan helps leaders on large-scale change and innovation. Designated a Thought-leader and Exemplar in Change Leadership by the Society for Advancement of Consulting®, and a Visionary by the Center for Association Leadership, he is the author of the bestsellers, Getting Change Right and Getting Innovation Right. Clients include the president of World Bank; the director of the Peace Corps; Royal Dutch Shell and 30+ association executives.

Seth Kahan




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