Today's CPA | Fall 2019
Are You Committed to Excellence?
In a culture of excellence, these become the norm: accountability, communication, efficiency, innovation, positivity, and quality. Shouldn’t we all strive for that?
ICPAS President & CEO
My time in corporate finance exposed me to how businesses
often revel in their mission statements committing them to
excellence. And while some people dismiss claims of excellence as
marketing speak, others argue that true excellence initiatives
improve processes and quality, lower costs and, ultimately, positively
impact morale. Others point to excellence as key to greater client or
customer satisfaction, profitability, and sustainability—what business
wouldn’t benefit from that? For many of us in the business world,
striving for excellence is something we hear encouraged all the time.
But what does excellence really mean when everyone defines it
differently? For me, I define excellence as “doing the right thing right
the first time.” Let’s break that down.
Doing the right thing:
How many times do you take on tasks or
delegate work to someone and it doesn’t quite hit the mark, which
leads to frustration and rework for everyone? If this sounds familiar,
I’m guessing you don’t think this is excellent and your colleagues,
clients, or customers probably don’t either. Excellence means
engaging in comprehensive communication to ensure that
everyone is on the same page right from the start.
When you do something, do you ensure that your work is
correct, or do you get it done quickly knowing that time is short and
someone up the chain will fix any mistakes? Given the pace of
change in our profession and the broader business world, it’s easy to
get caught up in being busy and pushing things out as quickly as
possible. But excellence is equated with accuracy. In accounting and
finance, we know the implications of computational errors, but even
something as simple as a typo or grammatical slip-up can compromise
your work, leading to further mistakes, misunderstandings, and
miscommunications. Excellence demands that, whatever you do, it’s
done accurately and with pride and accountability.
The first time:
Hopefully the work you do or the work you delegate out
eventually hits the mark. The question is, how many iterations did you
go through to accomplish that goal? Excellence requires embracing
communication, accountability, and quality to reduce the number
of times something must be done and re-done. While these might
sound like management buzzwords, I promise you that committing to
these traits will improve your teamwork, efficiency, innovation, and
relationships. I’m not saying that even with good communication every
project will go as planned and every work product will hit its mark, but
they should be closer and require fewer iterations.
We all know the frustration and lost productivity of doing and
redoing things. I truly believe that embracing a culture of excellence
can change this for you and your organization and, ultimately, our
profession. How does one go about building a culture of
excellence? It starts with honesty. If we make mistakes or miss the
mark, we need to be honest with ourselves and understand our
shortfalls. If there’s always an excuse or you always think it’s
something or someone else’s fault, you’ll struggle with excellence.
Once we get past honesty, commitment is critical to achieving
excellence. Everyone, at all levels, needs to be committed to
excellence at all times—not just when there’s time. We can’t lose
our commitment whenever we’re overwhelmed or over-worked.
One will never achieve excellence without clear, concise, and thorough
communication. Listening and asking questions are important aspects
of doing the right thing right the first time. Repeating back what’s
expected of you is a method of verifying the expected outcome.
Finally, there’s accountability. We have to hold ourselves and each
other accountable to our work product. Accountability isn’t fun
because it can sometimes result in confrontation. However, without
accountability, excellence is doomed to fail. Having those hard but
necessary conversations is just another aspect of being committed
to thorough communication.
If you’re thinking that embracing excellence sounds like a lot of work
and requires constant vigilance, it is. That said, I think it’s worth it.
Embracing excellence could be the difference between being a
client’s tax-time accountant or being their most valued business
advisor; it could be the difference between sitting in the backroom
or sitting in the boardroom; it could be the difference between
losing relevance in the market or being a market leader.
Rest assured, here at the Illinois CPA Society we’ve been exploring
our own excellence initiative. We’re committed to excellence in the
work we do serving you, our members, our communities, and the
CPA profession. Will you make the same commitment?