Sharing Success

Accountability Season

As soon as the NFL regular season ended, the “head coach replacement season” began for several teams. This is nothing new. But this year I was struck with how often I heard owners or team presidents telling the sports media that their new coach must bring to the team a strong commitment to “accountability.”

Accountability is a hot topic among NFL front offices these days, and I do not blame them. In my experience, winning teams (sports or businesses) have the discipline to hold themselves accountable to high expectations.

If you think about this in a broad sense, it is clear that businesses are ultimately held accountable by their customers every day. Let me explain. Customers have certain expectations about the value they receive from the goods and/or services that they receive for their money. If a business consistently meets or exceeds those expectations, customers will come back. On the other hand, if customers’ expectations are not consistently met, they will hold that company accountable by taking their business elsewhere.

This sounds simple enough, and most business owners understand the concept. After all, how well an organization performs as a whole depends on the performance of each of its members.

True accountability is a mindset shared within an organization from the top down that anything worth doing is worth doing well. (As the legendary Coach Vince Lombardi said, “Winning is not a sometime thing. It is an all the time thing.”) That type of accountability relies on regularly measuring meaningful performance by each team member and not accepting anything less than excellent results.

Still, some business owners fail to instill accountability throughout their entire organization, which nearly guarantees that their business does not operate as successfully (or profitably) as it could.

Especially in service-oriented businesses, “holding employees accountable” to excellence is not easy for several reasons:

1) There Is NO Scoreboard. Unlike sports, where team performances (wins/losses) are documented game by game, season by season, the natural ebb and flow of business makes it much harder to gauge customer satisfaction day to day, week to week. That said, over time, steadily rising sales suggest high team performance, while flat or declining sales suggest the opposite.

2) Easy-to-Count Stats Do Not Exist. Unlike sports, where player performance is easily measurable (yards gained, passes completed, etc.) before, during, and after the game, how well individual employees contribute to (or detract from) each customer’s satisfaction visit by visit is tough to quantify. That said, as a restaurateur friend once shared with me, “I cannot quantify good service, but I know it when I see it.” I say, even though it is tough to quantify, responsible business people find ways to grade or measure it.

3) Tough Calls Are Not Easy. Even for tough-minded coaches, regularly holding individuals (players or employees) accountable to high performance sometimes requires matter-of-fact discussions which can feel downright uncomfortable for everyone involved. That said, given the importance of customer satisfaction to repeat visits, long-term success, and ultimate profitability, how can businesses afford NOT to hold their teams accountable?

That is why I think the first step in business owners or managers holding employees accountable is holding themselves accountable to the following:

1) Take the time to identify and clearly explain high standards for what behavior you expect from each position and employee. Doing this can help you better focus your team more on what actually impacts customer satisfaction (and less on what does not).

2) Hold yourself and your managers accountable to regularly measuring individual employee performance against your standards and sharing that feedback with them. Especially when you are trying to encourage new patterns of behavior, frequent and timely feedback (both positive and negative) is very important. Underperformers may require intensive one-on-one coaching to get headed in the right direction.

3) Hold underperformers accountable to influence improvement by holding yourself accountable to taking difficult actions (parting company with the employee) when it is necessary.

Instilling an “accountability” mindset throughout an organization takes time and effort. However, I can tell you from experience that most employees enjoy their jobs when they know what is expected of them, that excellent performance is recognized, and that their underperforming coworkers are held accountable to improving or leaving. Finally, it is also my experience that most people simply like the feeling that comes from being part of a winning team!