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Today's CPA

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?
Todd Shapiro 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.

Right: 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?

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