What is business excellence (interview)?

  1. 1. A Series of Booklets defining and explaining the CPA Center of Excellence® and exploring related ideas. WHAT IS EXCELLENCE? 02
  2. 2. CPACOE.COM • Booklet Two • 3 WHAT IS EXCELLENCE? Achieving excellence can mean continuous learning. It can also mean challenging yourself and others and cooperation among professionals. However you approach it, there must be a strong commitment. The CPA Center of Excellence® asked David Griffiths, Ph.D. and the Indiana CPA Society previous Board Chair Kent Williams, CPA, CGMA, to discuss the characteristics of excellence.
  3. 3. 4 • CPA Center of Excellence® DAVID: We hear all the time CPA firms want to work on excellence. We’ve got a book series called CPA Excellence. So the idea that we want to work towards excellence — that we have quality performance but are interested in extending and progressing ourselves — how do we do it? KENT: Well, I think there are two things we need to do. The first is I think we need this idea of challenging one another — this idea of iron sharpening iron. If we’re constantly challenging each other to get better, I think that helps us to achieve excellence. One of the things that this society does for us in our profession — here in the state of Indiana — is that they challenge us to get better. And I think the second component is enhancing the art of accounting by cooperating together, which is embedded in our code of professional conduct. So it’s challenging one another and also cooperating to enhance the art of accounting. To build excellence in the profession. DAVID: CPA firms talk about good “technicians” and then they talk about the “rainmakers.” Rainmakers are the excellent performers. The technicians can be excellent in the technical aspects of accounting, but the added value piece — there’s something that differentiates the rainmaker from the technician. Can anybody in any CPA firm identify what core competencies are those differentiating factors? KENT: Oh, absolutely. The idea of communication, and your ability to interact and carry yourself — all those things. DAVID: Yeah, they’ll say, “Oh, he’s a good decision maker. He’s got good judgment.” or “She’s a great leader. She’s a great communicator.” They can start to look at what that means and then look at how they can lift everybody else within the organization to meet that. But we’ve got to be able to identify what we mean by those differentiating factors. “I hear he’s a great networker. He works the room.” Well, what does that mean? Is it something that can’t be taught? That excellence, in that case, is just about natural talent? Or are we saying, “Actually, we can start to work through that, and we can start to look at what makes that person a good networker and somebody else not such a good networker.” We can lift other people to meet that level of what we are seeing as excellence. But once we get there, does that mean that what we define as excellence moves on and up? That once we’ve reached that level of what we perceived it to be in the first place, it actually will rise again? “I think that it gets to a point where we are dealing with people who have to learn to constantly learn, and they have to understand how to learn. They have to understand how to become more of a critical thinker about what’s happening around them.” ,,
  4. 4. CPACOE.COM • Booklet Two • 5 KENT: Absolutely. There are those in the organization who are technical experts, and that may be where they find themselves throughout their profession. And it’s not because they don’t want to be the rainmakers. It’s not because they don’t want to work on those networking skills, but because they’re just really good at the technical side. But at the same time, they, too, can work on those areas — those communications skills or decision making or critical thinking skills. That ability to walk into a room, work that room, network, and still play their role within the organization if they choose to do that. DAVID: If we look at music, most people would likely still say today that Beethoven was an excellent composer. His work has stood the test of time. But when we look at fields such as sport, you can talk about people being excellent in their time, but they’re no longer regarded as being as good because the game has changed. The speed of the game has changed. The expectation. The height of receivers has changed. The pace or the speed of running backs has changed, so it’s very difficult to compare one generation of sport with another. But we find that as well when we start to look inside CPA firms. That excellence is based on that moment in time — what we’re seeing here and now. But with the changing profession, what we see as excellent now might not have the same relationship or the same definition in five years’ time. KENT: What do you think it’s going to take for that idea of a commitment to excellence for an individual, organization and so forth? DAVID: It has to be recognized within the individual. It gets to a point where we have to learn to constantly learn, and we have to understand how to learn. We have to understand how to become more of a critical thinker about what’s happening around us. We have to take that constant position of challenging and questioning, “Why? Why is this accepted? Why do we always do it this way? Why do I always do it this way?” Understanding how you learn and continuously learning is really one of the key elements in developing lifelong excellence. KENT: For those that are reading this today: what would be the “iron sharpening iron” characteristics of those individuals who challenge you? What are you looking for in those individuals? DAVID: You get to a point in your life where you realize you can surround yourself with the Kent Williams, CPA, CGMA, is the INCPAS Board Chair 2014-15, and an assistant professor at the DeVoe Division of Business at Indiana Wesleyan University. David Griffiths, Ph.D. is the CPA Center of Excellence® Advisor, and the founder of Alkame, a knowledge capability consultancy firm that leverages proprietary award-winning research to improve social, intellectual and human capital development.
  5. 5. 6 • CPA Center of Excellence® wrong people. The people that tell you you’re doing everything great. To a certain extent that’s fantastic, but for me, I’ve been trying to seek out people — especially over the last seven to 10 years — that will challenge my point of view. I’ve got other people in my life that will turn around and just go, “You’re wrong. You’re an idiot, and you’re wrong, and just don’t do it that way.” And they’re very confrontational. While it’s not the type of approach I’d take, it’s more about the fact that I’m willing to listen. I can and have to listen now, because I realize that they are key contributors to my success and my idea of excellence. It’s great to have people who will challenge you. KENT: Even if they deliver the message to us in an incorrect way — maybe they’re harsh — if there’s truth embedded in what they’ve said, I have a responsibility to do something with it. Maybe it’s a manager — maybe it’s your manager and they respond to you in a very harsh way, and boy, that’s difficult to hear. You don’t like it. It’s not something you’ve necessarily sought out and asked their opinion about. But they’ve delivered something to you — a criticism. And I think that if you can listen and step back and say, “Ok, is there any truth in it?” then do something with it, that will help achieve excellence. DAVID: You know, I think one of the defining things when it comes to excellence — and I argue that you can’t be a chief exec unless you have this particular characteristic — is an internal locus of control. We have people that have either an internal locus of control, or an external locus of control. When things happen to them — when they get criticism — people with the external locus of control will turn around and blame somebody else. It’s outside of their control. You get to a point in your life where you realize that you can surround yourself with the wrong people. The people that tell you you’re doing everything great.
  6. 6. CPACOE.COM • Booklet Two • 7 It’s something that somebody else did that has caused this. It’s not them. Somebody with the internal locus of control will turn around and look at themselves first. “How have my actions or my lack of action contributed to that opinion?” It’s that inward-facing piece. I believe that is a key characteristic in excellence. Somebody who we look at as excellent has an internal locus of control. They are very reflective, very understanding about themselves. They understand themselves and how they work, and they can absorb that criticism. And use it to better themselves. Metacognition — learning that idea where it started. Learning to learn. KENT: Well, and you think about how much further they’re going to get than those who don’t take that approach. The quicker we learn those lessons, the quicker we reflect on how we can do things better. Somebody who we look at as excellent, I would argue would have that internal locus of control. They are very reflective, very understanding about themselves. People will talk about metacognition — learning that idea where it started. Learning to learn. They understand themselves and how they work, and they can absorb that criticism. And use it to better themselves.
  7. 7. 8 • CPA Center of Excellence® ORGANIZATIONS TODAY need to focus on their ability to continue to efficiently and effectively design, develop, deliver and maintain products and services that their current and future customers want. The environment is changing so quickly that if they don’t, they become stale and fail. Pursuing excellence means continuing to challenge yourself and others in your organization. Look back to when you first joined your organization. You were probably “fresh,” full of curiosity and questions. The problem is that the longer people are with organizations the more “stale” they become. The questions stop and the “norm” is accepted as something not to be challenged — you could argue that these people have become too intimate, too close, to the organization, with the consequence being that they stand idly by as their personal worth diminishes and their career slips away from them. Too many stale people and the organization becomes vulnerable to drift and failure. Leaders and managers often talk about anticipation or EXCELLENCE THROUGH CURIOSITY By David Griffiths, Ph.D., CPA Center of Excellence Advisor®
  8. 8. CPACOE.COM • Booklet Two • 9 anticipatory awareness, the need to become more aware of the emerging future and the way in which the organization can either shape or find a best-fit with it. But how can you begin to do this? How do you keep an organization fresh? The answer is to inspire curiosity. This should not be seen as the responsibility of one person, this should be a ritual, a social expectation for membership in the community (adapted from George Lowenstein’s, The Psychology of Curiosity). Here are five ways to help stop your organization from going stale. All you have to do is freshen your eyes. “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” — Aristotle “I think I always just want to get better at whatever I’m doing… always strive for excellence.” — Carl Hagelin The secret of joy in work is contained in one word — excellence. To know how to do something well is to enjoy it. — Pearl S. Buck FIVE WAYS TO INSPIRE EXCELLENCE THROUGH CURIOSITY Pose an interesting question Expose a problem like a sequence of events with an anticipated but unknown resolution Challenge the norm pose a position that violates the accepted outcome Social competition create the need to know what someone else knows Maintain a feeling of familiarity make sure the challenge feels intimate or close to experience THOUGHTS ON EXCELLENCE

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