Jennifer Wilson
Everyone can get better

Three strategies to develop a culture of improvement.

October 15, 2012
by Jennifer Wilson

In The Speed of Trust: The One Thing That Changes Everything, Stephen M.R. Covey shares 13 behaviors that drive organizational trust. One of those behaviors is “get better”—or the willingness of a leader to continually improve—and it’s one of my favorites. Fundamentally, I believe that leaders who foster a culture of “get better” stand a far better chance of building a high-functioning team and delivering uncommon performance. This article explores three ways you can develop a culture of “get better” in your firm.

First, share with your entire team the idea that getting better is an attribute of leaders and leading firms. Openly discuss that your firm, its departments, its people, its services, and its clients are imperfect, and they can always improve. Request that all firm leaders regularly seek ways to improve your firm’s programs, processes, and people. Consider having one of your firm’s core values relate to a commitment to improve and grow. Regularly discuss the importance of getting better with all teammates at all levels and encourage them to seek feedback on their performance.

Second, welcome feedback on your performance and the performance of your firm from various stakeholders, including your peers, subordinates, and clients. Hold formal feedback events, including busy-season postmortems, client-service focus groups, employee-engagement meetings and fireside chats that allow you to get and give honest feedback.

As you receive feedback, listen carefully, ensure each person is heard, and acknowledge his or her courage in sharing his or her views. Bear in mind that each person has a perspective you need to understand, because it may be shared by others, and you may not hear it from them directly. Listen carefully to the inputs you receive and develop strategies to grow and improve based on that feedback.

Third, commit to and exhibit lifelong learning. This means humbling yourself and admitting that you can still improve, learn new skills, and change behavior at any stage of your career. Many of us want to feel as though we’ve reached a certain level that earns us the privilege to teach, but not learn. When we take this approach, two negative things can happen. First, resisting your own personal development and growth can be disheartening to your team, because they see your areas for improvement and are interested in seeing you improve, too. Second, when you act as if you are “above” learning, then others begin to rationalize that their experience or level somehow excuses them, too, and your organization will start to decline in its accumulation of knowledge capital.

Avoid the “I have arrived” trap and openly discuss your commitment to personally improve and grow. Then demonstrate your commitment by showing up at learning functions, paying attention, participating, asking questions, and staying for the entire event, no matter how busy you are or how important your work is outside the event. If your firm produces learning road maps for staff members, be sure to complete one for yourself, regardless of your level in the organization. Submit to an annual performance appraisal. Always seek to grow and learn.

By fostering a culture of “get better,” you’ll create an environment where feedback is expected, improvement is highly valued, and learning is a must. “Get better” will enable you to attract the profession’s brightest and serve clients who value excellence. After all, who doesn’t want to work for or with a firm committed to constant improvement?

Editor’s note: Wilson will facilitate three sessions at the Digital CPA: 2012 CPA2Biz Cloud User Conference, to be held Oct. 28-30 in Washington.

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Jennifer Wilson is a partner and co-founder of ConvergenceCoaching LLC, a leadership and marketing consulting and coaching firm that helps leaders achieve success.