Interview - IOTA HRM Forum on Innovations and Trends in Learning and Development (L&D) in a Modern Tax Administration

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IOTA held its annual HRM Forum in mid-November, focusing on "Innovations and Trends in Learning and Development (L&D) in a Modern Tax Administration." Over 50 tax officials from 26 IOTA member administrations were welcomed to this year's event in Budapest to exchange ideas and discover new strategies and innovative approaches in tax administration in the L&D area. Topics touched upon various L&D practices of IOTA member countries, focusing on future skills, leadership, coaching, blended learning, knowledge transfer, and more.

Throughout the event, attendees were all able to showcase their creativity through a series of fun and interactive activities and challenges, such as solving crossword puzzles in teams and participating in a ChatGPT simulation exercise. Additionally, an interactive group coaching method also unfolded at the Forum, which allowed the participants to reflect on their own experiences and consider solutions to problems arising in the field of L&D in tax administration. Panagiotis Ballas from the Greek Tax Administration (IAPR), who attended the event, highlighted that ‘The Forum exuded a positive and welcoming atmosphere, fostering a sense of camaraderie among tax officials from IOTA member administrations.’ The event's welcoming and inspiring atmosphere caught my eye as well, so I spoke to some participants to hear more about their experiences and what they learned during the two-and-a-half-day event. Here is what attendees from Belgium, Finland, Greece & Italy shared.

Garb a coffee, take a break, and dive in!

Erika Szabo/IOTA Secretariat: How did you feel yourself? What were your first thoughts, and first impressions about the HRM Forum on Innovations and Trends in Learning and Development (L&D) in a Modern Tax Administration?

Michael Vindevoghel/Belgium: I always find the IOTA HRM Forum very refreshing. This is the second time that I could attend and on each occasion, I came out with some interesting thoughts and ideas. This was the first time, I had the opportunity to give a presentation, and I was glad to see that so many people found it interesting.

A person standing in front of a projector screenDescription automatically generatedJaana Lokka-Palomaki/Finland: I had a very inspirational Forum due to the discussions and presentations given by excellent people. It gave me a lot to think about, but I also thank my organisation for sending me here.

Suvi Juola/Finland: I felt inspired and innovative. I found that the presentations were very interesting, the discussions with other participants brought new ideas and tools to reflect some challenges we are facing.

Panagiotis Ballas/Greece: The HRM Forum was an inspiring and insightful event that provided a valuable platform for tax officials to exchange ideas and best practices. The Forum's focus on innovation and collaboration was evident in the lively discussions, engaging presentations, and diverse perspectives shared by participants. From the outset, the Forum exuded a positive and welcoming atmosphere, fostering a sense of camaraderie among tax officials from IOTA member administrations. The caliber of the speakers and the depth of their presentations set a high standard for the event, showcasing the impressive advancements in L&D strategies and methodologies within various tax administrations. The opportunity to network and engage with fellow tax officials from across Europe was particularly enriching. The discussions during the formal sessions and social events revealed a shared passion for enhancing L&D practices to meet the evolving needs of modern tax administrations. The level of expertise and commitment to L&D among the participants was truly inspiring. Overall, the HRM Forum exceeded my expectations. It was a truly transformative experience that reinforced my belief in the power of innovation and collaboration to advance L&D practices within tax administrations. I am confident that the insights and connections gained from this event will continue to positively impact my work and the broader L&D landscape within IOTA.

Fabrizio Ventimiglia/Italy: I took part in many congresses or forum meetings in my life, so I thought I already knew my feelings about the IOTA forum. Surprisingly, as soon as I immersed myself into the first session, I realized, I had never been that comfortable with people before. I felt that everybody around me was expressing the same passion and vision I had. It was amazing.

Erika Szabo/IOTA Secretariat: What are the main things that you have learned at the Forum? What are your main takeaways from the 3-day event?

A person standing at a podium with a microphoneDescription automatically generatedMichael Vindevoghel/Belgium: There are many possible examples of inspiration and food for thought, but I will stick to two because they are both simple and powerful. I liked the idea of lateral leadership as part of an expert career, as expressed by Michael from Austria. This is something that we could use as a tool for getting communities and the more active sharing of knowledge going within our organisation. We invest a lot in leadership, but this idea of lateral leadership is something we have not yet focused on and seems to have a lot of potential. The second was the co-vision exercise (interactive group coaching – the editor), as introduced by Karin from Estonia. The exercise and the outline of it are clear and simple. In the exercise we did, I learned a lot. Because of its simplicity, it is also scalable, which is interesting if you have to find possible solutions for 22.000 people. It is easy to start an initiative and invest means and people in it, but it is not always possible to keep this up after the initial phase. Here the idea is simple, and the instructions are clear, so this could be something which – hopefully – will become part of our culture long term.

Jaana Lokka-Palomaki/Finland: Agile competence development is here to stay and we certainly need a functioning LXP to support it. Coaching as a method to covision problems is under-used and I should get that going on with my team. We need to focus on managerial skills and soft skills in the hybrid time.

Suvi Juola/Finland: How the LXP can be the fountain of motivation: it helps people to learn in the right themes and at the right time, we are facing the same challenges, and coaching is widely seen as one of the tools to support learning. VITARA, a virtual training tool and its courses, group coaching methods, and many ideas on how to develop our training modules for example onboarding and managerial.

Panagiotis Ballas/Greece: Key takeaways from the 3-day Forum are that it: 1. Highlighted the importance of L&D in developing the skills and knowledge that tax officials need to acquire and develop to navigate the complexities and succeed in a modern tax administration. 2. Tax administrations must continuously adapt and evolve to keep pace with technological advancements, changing legal frameworks, and emerging global trends in the business environment. 3. L&D plays a pivotal role in ensuring that tax officials possess the required competencies to effectively administer tax systems and meet the evolving expectations of taxpayers. I believe that the HRM Forum was a valuable event that helped advance the field of L&D in tax administrations. I hope IOTA continues organizing similar events in the future. This exchange of knowledge and expertise promotes the adoption of effective L&D strategies and contributes to the overall improvement of tax administration practices.

A group of people in a roomDescription automatically generatedFabrizio Ventimiglia/Italy: I would mention at least three takeaways I have been interested in. 1. VITARA platform. That is an idea we conceptualized twenty years ago, and I was very happy to see that someone had the same solution. 2. A Bidimensional Career map is an idea we had almost ten years ago, witnessing people wanting to improve their skills without becoming managers, as a “career” shouldn’t necessarily mean climbing the organisational hierarchy. 3. LXP. A model that captures new challenges of the present days in L&D sciences.


Erika Szabo/IOTA Secretariat: What are the top HR developments (strategies and innovative approaches to L&D) for your administration that you would like to achieve in the following years? (3 priorities/developments)

Michael Vindevoghel/Belgium: We begin with our skills framework, which I hope will help us start making a difference. I especially think about understanding where the skill gaps are and basing our training plan on this data, instead of the more HIPPO-based approach we currently use (HIPPO refers to the Highest Paid Person’s Opinion). I hope this will also help us get a better idea of the efficacy of our training (do competency improves or not). Also, we hope this can be the basis for career paths, as described by Finland.

Jaana Lokka-Palomaki/Finland: I would say firstly Making a Career map -thinking of it as a part of our living organisation culture, that is to say, that strategy strives for our competence development and people will find the paths with the help of the strategy. Secondly, with the service design more human-centric competence development means. And finally: build up a culture that has diversity and inclusion at its heart.

Suvi Juola/Finland: One of the main developments is Career Mapping, and then the LXP as it should include deeper data as a part of the L&D processes.

A person speaking at a podiumDescription automatically generatedPanagiotis Ballas/Greece: In the dynamic and evolving landscape of tax administration, embracing innovative learning and development (L&D) strategies is crucial for tax administrations to equip their workforce with the necessary skills and knowledge to navigate the complexities of modern tax systems. With this in mind, the Tax and Customs Academy of the Independent Authority for Public Revenue prioritizes the following top HR developments for the coming years: 1. Embracing Digital Learning and Blended Learning Approaches 2. Personalized Learning and Adaptive Learning Technologies 3. Continuous Learning and Upskilling for a Dynamic Tax Environment. By implementing these top HR developments, we are committed to empowering our workforce, enhancing our operational efficiency, and improving taxpayer service delivery. We believe that investing in innovative L&D strategies is a key driver of success for modern tax administrations in the digital age.

Fabrizio Ventimiglia/Italy: With regards to my administration, I strongly would like to implement at least three new ideas: 1. A wider and more complete onboarding program for new hires; 2. An independent Academy (thank you Greece for setting your example); 3. Upscaling the learning system in the risk management process, more specifically rebuilding in a more shining way the present implant of courses.

Erika Szabo/IOTA Secretariat: Is there anything that you specifically would like to see at the next HRM Forum?

Michael Vindevoghel/Belgium: It’s a good question. I can say, for instance, what initiatives and/or policy changes were made, based on information that members received during this year (or even previous years) at the IOTA HRM Forum and how they did this.

A person holding papers in front of a group of peopleDescription automatically generatedJaana Lokka-Palomaki/Finland: It would be nice to see again all the people and HR professionals I have met at this Forum. And of course, as a subject wise: service design and design thinking in the use of HR would be a great topic.

Suvi Juola/Finland: I especially would like to see examples of how we raise the culture of humanity across Europe’s Tax Administrations.

Panagiotis Ballas/Greece: The HRM Forum has been an invaluable platform for tax officials to share knowledge, exchange best practices, and explore innovative approaches to L&D. To further enhance the Forum's impact and relevance in the years to come, I would propose the followings: 1. Deep dive into specific L&D themes: dedicating sessions to specific L&D themes, such as Artificial Intelligence (AI) applications in L&D, would allow for a more in-depth exploration of emerging trends and their practical implications. 2. Cultivating future-proof skills and measuring L&D effectiveness. 3. Interactive learning experiences: showcase innovative L&D technologies. By incorporating these suggestions, the HRM Forum can continue to evolve as a leading platform for tax administrations to advance their L&D strategies, prepare for the future of work, and deliver exceptional service to taxpayers.

Fabrizio Ventimiglia/Italy: Evaluation 360° is a powerful tool for boosting the development of managers and officers. It could be interesting to follow the example of Austria, experimenting with the 180° feedback.

Erika Szabo/IOTA Secretariat: What does IOTA mean to you? What it’s like working with IOTA?

A person pointing at a whiteboardDescription automatically generatedMichael Vindevoghel/Belgium: IOTA is a refreshing and inspiring organisation, it allows you to be inspired, but also to benchmark and reflect on past struggles: many of the problems you are experiencing, or have had to deal with them yourself. It is good to be reminded and helps you to reflect on this and can help you learn by seeing different or similar approaches.

Jaana Lokka-Palomaki/Finland: This gathering was my first touch with IOTA and it truly was amazing. I enjoyed the atmosphere, the topics discussed, and the solution-focused mindset. To me, with this experience, IOTA means developing together, sharing knowledge, and boosting each other.

Suvi Juola/Finland: For me, IOTA means new ideas, cooperation with other member countries, changing best practices, and developing tools together. Working in this international environment is very productive and rewarding. The people here and colleagues from other tax administrations are very nice and friendly. The common aim is to help tax administrations to develop thorough changes.

Panagiotis Ballas/Greece: IOTA stands as a beacon of collaboration and knowledge exchange within the realm of tax administration. It has played a pivotal role in fostering connections between tax officials across Europe, enabling them to share best practices, explore innovative approaches, and navigate the complexities of the ever-evolving tax landscape. Working with IOTA has been an immensely enriching experience, offering a plethora of benefits that have positively impacted my professional journey. I would like to highlight the following: networking opportunities, IOTA provides a unique platform for tax officials from diverse backgrounds to connect, share experiences, and cultivate lasting professional relationships. These interactions have broadened my perspective, enriched my understanding of tax administration practices across Europe, and opened doors to potential collaborations. It also means professional development, access to information and resources, and contribution to international tax cooperation. In essence, IOTA has not only enriched my professional knowledge and skills but also instilled in me a profound appreciation for the power of collaboration and knowledge sharing. I am grateful to the Independent Authority for Public Revenue for giving me the opportunity to participate in IOTA meetings and for the opportunities I have gained through IOTA. I encourage fellow tax officials to embrace IOTA's offerings and actively participate in its initiatives to further advance the field of tax administration.

Fabrizio Ventimiglia/Italy: Working with IOTA is an exceptional opportunity for comparison and growth not only among member countries, which share EU membership and thus can chart the road map for the European tax union but also with nonmember countries with which to exchange best practices and pursue worldwide development of compliance techniques and tools.

Erika Szabo/IOTA Secretariat: Why is IOTA important now and in the future, in your view?

Michael Vindevoghel/Belgium: I think my response would slightly repeat itself a bit, but for me, I think benchmarking and seeing the struggles and solutions that other HR professionals face is so worthwhile.

A group of people sitting at a tableDescription automatically generatedJaana Lokka-Palomaki/Finland: To share discuss, and solve the common challenges we have. As a peer organization and platform to share thoughts and learn from each other. And that way to have an impact also to the bigger picture.

Suvi Juola/Finland: As we can see, we have similar challenges across Europe and we can change ideas in IOTA´s online meetings and hybrid events, create new models together in smaller groups, and help each other to drive the digital and other changes in Tax Administrations. By the work IOTA is doing we can save time and money when we learn proactively.

Panagiotis Ballas/Greece: IOTA stands as a cornerstone of cooperation and collaboration within the intricate landscape of European tax administration. Its importance stems from the fundamental need for efficient and effective tax systems that underpin economic growth, social welfare, and fair competition in the European region. IOTA's current relevance is multifaceted, addressing a range of critical issues in the EU tax domain such as navigating the complexities of EU tax law, addressing tax avoidance and evasion, enhancing tax transparency and accountability, and supporting digitalisation and technological advancements. In conclusion, IOTA's role in promoting efficient, effective, and fair tax administration in the European region is undeniable. Its importance is likely to grow as the tax landscape evolves and new challenges arise. IOTA's commitment to cooperation, knowledge sharing, and innovation will be crucial in ensuring that EU tax systems remain fit for the future, supporting economic growth, social welfare, and fair competition across the continent.

Fabrizio Ventimiglia/Italy: As I just said, IOTA is the gate to reach a greater unification of European countries and the future development of the European Union.

Erika Szabo/IOTA Secretariat: Who is your icon/role model in taxation?

Michael Vindevoghel/Belgium: Honestly, I do not have an icon in taxation, but in L&D, I am a great fan of JD Dillon, whose framework was mentioned during my presentation.  I also like Nick Shackleton-Jones, as he is an innovative thinker who tries to push things forward. I like his book “How People Learn” a lot, even though some parts of it (especially his alternative model about how we remember) are still controversial. But I like the fact that he tries to think of new possible explanations, and the rest of the book is undoubtedly filled with valid points and can be a great inspiration on how to create effective and effective learnings.

Jaana Lokka-Palomaki/Finland: I can answer nothing else than the Finnish Tax Administration.

Suvi Juola/Finland: It’s not an easy question to answer. But if I have to name someone, I would say my role model is our Communications Director, Kati Kalliomäki.

A group of people in a roomDescription automatically generatedPanagiotis Ballas/Greece: The field of taxation is enriched by the contributions of numerous brilliant minds, each with their unique insights and perspectives. Among these luminaries, two individuals stand out as particular inspirations to me: Joseph Stiglitz and Mariana Mazzucato.

Joseph Stiglitz, a Nobel laureate in economics, has made seminal contributions to the field of public economics. Mariana Mazzucato, renowned economist and author of "The Entrepreneurial State". Both Stiglitz and Mazzucato have challenged conventional thinking about taxation and its role in society. Their work has not only enriched my understanding of taxation but also inspired me to view taxation as a powerful tool for promoting social justice, economic prosperity, and sustainable development. Their dedication to rigorous research and their commitment to public policy has made them true icons in the field of taxation, and I am honored to have their work as a guiding light in my own professional journey.

Erika Szabo/IOTA Secretariat: What is your biggest motivation at work?

Michael Vindevoghel/Belgium: To innovate and explore. To expand my knowledge and find new things to learn and experiment with and then introduce this and inspire others to start using it as well.

Jaana Lokka-Palomaki/Finland: Movement and impact, joyful, inclusive work life.

Suvi Juola/Finland: People and doing work that helps others.

Panagiotis Ballas/Greece: My work in tax and customs administration is driven by a deep passion for contributing to the profession's advancement and ensuring that future generations of officials are well-equipped to navigate the evolving complexities of this field. Among my key motivations are as follows: 1. Fostering the next generation of tax and customs professionals: I am committed to nurturing the next generation of tax and customs professionals, ensuring they possess the necessary skills, knowledge, and adaptability to meet the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead. This commitment is reflected in my dedication to developing innovative training programs, incorporating cutting-edge technologies, and promoting mentorship opportunities to empower the next generation to excel in their roles. 2. Championing innovation and best practices. 3. Cultivating professionalism and integrity. 4. Making a positive societal impact: In addition to these personal motivations, I am particularly inspired by the leadership of Mr. Georgios Pitsilis, the Governor of the Independent Authority for Public Revenue. His vision and commitment to innovation have transformed the Authority into a modern, dynamic, and adaptable organisation, creating an appealing workplace that encourages creativity and collaboration. His leadership serves as a beacon, motivating me to strive for excellence and contribute to the continued growth and advancement of the tax and customs profession. Last but not least, the Tax and Customs Academy fulfills its mission with the continuous support and guidance of the General Director of Human Resources and Organisation, Mr. Efthimios Saitis.

Fabrizio Ventimiglia/Italy: To help my colleagues to be “happy” at work and grow professionally, achieving everyday development goals.

Erika Szabo/IOTA Secretariat: Do you have any messages for the IOTA Community?

Michael Vindevoghel/Belgium: Thank you for the time together. Hope to see you again next year (or perhaps even sooner) and do not hesitate to be in touch.

Jaana Lokka-Palomaki/Finland: I truly hope to see you all soon again! I would like to be a part of the influencing crew.

Suvi Juola/Finland: Thank you, you rock!

Panagiotis Ballas/Greece: Congratulations on your continued efforts to promote cooperation and collaboration among tax administrations in the European region. Continue to share best practices and develop common standards for tax administration. By sharing knowledge and expertise, IOTA member administrations can improve their performance and provide better services to taxpayers. Address emerging tax challenges, such as the digitalisation of the economy and the rise of cross-border transactions. I am confident that IOTA will continue to play a leading role in shaping the future of tax administration in the EU region. Thank you for your dedication to this important work. Onwards and upwards!

Fabrizio Ventimiglia/Italy: Yes! I loved you all. The social environment has been very warm and all ideas I received have been and will be very thriving for my everyday work. Thank you so much IOTA.

This HRM Forum was led by the IOTA International Taxation Expert Oksana Stepanenko and supported by the IOTA Strategy and Institutional Development Manager Roman Bichevoy.