Culture Collaboration: Q&A with David O’Hara of Improving

This week we’re talking with David O’Hara, the President of Improving. Improving is an IT services company that offers consulting, training, recruiting, and project services including creating custom software for companies.  Our firm was first introduced to them through a Conscious Capitalism event.  What’s unique about Improving is not only their approach to IT services, but also their commitment to running a purpose-driven business.  Here’s a little bit about their journey of being a values-based, Conscious business:

1.  We love connecting with like-minded businesses who focus on culture and we’re excited to feature Improving in our Culture Collaboration blog. Can you tell us a little about how you guys got started and your current company?

Improving was founded in 2007 by a group that came together to build a company focused on being great by caring for each other and being a great place to work. As we’ve grown over the years the focus has always been on culture – shaping and cultivating it.  About 7 or 8 years ago, we discovered the Conscious Capitalism movement and realized we were actually “unconscious capitalists” because we were doing things because “they were the right thing to do.”  Now we have over 400 employees across 7 locations in North America and we still operate with this mindset.

We have several guiding principles that have helped shape and maintain our culture over the years.  In this attempt to clearly identify who we are as a company, we started with our purpose, which is the ambition to change the perception of the IT professional through building and maintaining environments of trust. That plus the solid foundation of Conscious Capitalism with its 4 tenets – a higher purpose, stakeholder orientation, conscious leadership and a conscious culture, continues to give us a clear path to knowing who we are today and where we’d like to grow for the future.

2.  What are your core values?

We refer to our core values as “commitments” and we have 5 of them that define Improving.  They are:

·      Creating an environment that fosters longtime personal and professional relationships

·      Promoting open and honest communication – we don’t believe in closed doors and have an open office environment

·      Sharing in the accomplishments and success of the company

·      Finding creative ways to learn and grow

·      Creating a positive atmosphere that’s friendly and fun

To be an “Improver” means exemplifying the following 3 principles:

·      Excellence

·      Involvement

·      Dedication

3.  Can you tell us about the most difficult parts of maintaining a great culture?

Culture is crucial and the lifeblood of an organization but it can also can be fragile; you can mess it up easily with just a couple of bad decisions. For every action, we are always asking, “does this honor our culture?” and we decide accordingly. It takes discipline to say no to the things that don’t honor the Improving culture, but we’ve learned that in order to preserve our who we are we need to be careful to not overreact when unexpected things happen.  We need to respond in a cool and collected manner and treat exceptions appropriately instead of establishing knee-jerk policies in response to certain situations.

4.  In view of Improving’s growth, can you share any tips on how to maintain culture as you add team members?

A few things that have made us successful in maintaining our culture while we’ve experienced rapid growth are:

·      To promote from within. For example, each President in each of our offices has been in the business as a consultant and knows the ins and outs of the company personally at multiple levels.

·      We established executive interviews as the last step in our interview process. We look to see that there is alignment of values as much as skills. We recruit for values because skills can be taught.

·      We get people involved in shaping the culture and we have established committees that guide and direct initiatives. Having guiding coalitions and collaboration gives people a sense of ownership and helps them internalize the culture.

5.  So, would you say it helps that Improvers are protective of the culture?

I would say it’s not necessarily about being protective – more ‘shepherding’. It is based on trusting individuals to be great people and giving them opportunities to grow and have a hand in shaping the culture.

6.  If a company hadn’t been down the road before of creating culture and purposes/values, but wanted to, what advice would you give them?

Don’t just have a management poster printed for the wall! It is too aspirational and often times less based on reality.  And before defining your purpose, ask “who am I?” / “who are you?”. In addition, a great exercise we did early on was an exercise called “Mission to Mars” – we asked some of our employees: “You’re going to be responsible for rebuilding Improving on Mars – which people do you want to put on the space ship?”  We kept doing the exercise again and again, each time whittling the list down further.  From there we asked, “what is it about these people that made us choose them?”  Eventually, we coalesced it into a shortlist of people who shared the following values or characteristics:

·      Excellence

·      Involvement

·      Dedication

7.  This is really great.  Sounds like a great exercise to determine who the company really is.  Is there anything else you’d like to mention in closing? 

We want to do business for good and not just for money. We see how people define “good” – the sense is that we are all aiming at something bigger than us, tackling the same problems, and experiencing different interpretations across the culture.

Chelsea Green, COO of Klemchuk LLP says:

“We agree Improving is setting a new bar for doing business for good.  And it shows in the numerous awards the company has won such as winning the Dallas Business Journal’s Best Places to Work 9 years in a row and ranking on the Inc. 5000 list for 9 consecutive years also.  For more information on Improving, please visit them at”  

The Conversations with Innovators blog discusses new innovations, big ideas, disruptive technologies, and the thought leaders, innovators, rebels, entrepreneurs and trailblazers that make all of this possible.

For Conversations with other thought leaders and innovators in the financial industry, see innovator Ben Alden of Betterment and innovator Brian Bollinger of Simply Safe Dividends.

For more information about related legal issues, read our Professional Services industry page.  


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About the Firm:

Klemchuk LLP is a litigation, intellectual property, transactional, and international business law firm dedicated to protecting innovation. The firm provides tailored legal solutions to industries including software, technology, retail, real estate, consumer goods, ecommerce, telecommunications, restaurant, energy, media, and professional services. The firm focuses on serving mid-market companies seeking long-term, value-added relationships with a law firm. Learn more about experiencing law practiced differently and our local counsel practice.

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