If you were to ask five people what “accountability” means to them, you would probably end up with five different answers, and no two would sound alike. Accountability is one of those words that everyone knows, but do they really understand what it means? As an example, what about the word “infamous”? Although most people think infamous means someone famous, in reality, it refers to someone with a terrible reputation. Look it up.
Define Your Terms
So, what does accountability mean, and what is the actual definition? You can google it quicker than I can write it, so I will ask that you look at it and see if it matches what you have always thought. More importantly, I would like us to take accountability a step further and apply it to a Culture of Accountability, an organization-wide way of thinking where everyone is involved.
For this article, and to ensure that the message I am attempting to convey is precise, I will refer to the definition given to me about 11 years ago by Michael Scott of Mike Scott and Associates,( not the Michael Scott of “The Office” fame). A Totally Accountable culture is “Doing what you said you would do, as you said you would do it when you said you would do it with no surprises.”
Think about that for a minute. A place where everyone held themselves accountable for everything, every day, no questions asked. What kind of environment would that create for your team if everyone knew that they could rely on everyone else to do and perform as they had said they would? Think about this in your personal life, if everyone you interacted with was fully accountable. What about the car repair that you scheduled for completion at 3 p.m. Thursday and discovered it was ready, or the HVAC technician that was supposed to arrive at your house at 8 a.m. Friday and pulled into the driveway at 7:59? Imagine the stress, the doubt, the worrying that would go away, and because of that, you could plan whatever you wanted, knowing that everything would be on schedule.
Apply the same principle to your business and your clients. How accountable are you and your team to the clients that you serve? Would they call you accountable or have they lowered their expectations based on past experiences and they are just happy that you showed up? Every new client has a price tag for acquisition, and it’s essential to understand that you could lose that investment in a matter of seconds because you did not deliver as promised or as expected. Although you work hard to gain new clients, and it takes even more work to maintain those relationships, be sure that your team is up to the challenge.
Lastly, apply the principle of a Culture of Accountability to your team, look across the organization, and ask yourself if you are truly accountable. Chances are you will start thinking to yourself, “Yea, we do pretty well,” and then after thinking it over a little more, it might change to “We do all right,” and then finally reality will set in, and you might be sitting there going “We have a lot of work to do,” and that is ok. Nothing can change until we recognize that we have an opportunity to get better, and I can assure you that a culture of accountability in the workplace can create an engaged, productive, and most importantly, a trusting team. When each employee knows that the others around them will do what they said they would do, when they said they would do it and how they said they would do it, they do not have to worry or keep tabs on others.
Let this sink in. The installer you asked to gather some information while on a call who says they will take care of it actually gathers the data. How about the service technician who told a client that they would make sure the copy of the contract gets mailed right away and before they leave home, they have contacted the office and someone is mailing the contract. And then we have the CSR who promised the client that they will call back next week when the client gets home from vacation, and sure enough, they are on the phone making that call Monday morning. Imagine the issues that go away or never happen and how satisfied everyone would be. How about your competition? Would this new culture set your team apart from everyone else in your market, and what would be the results?
It’s a Process
Accountability will not happen overnight. It will take time and commitment from the entire team, but it is possible, and the benefits can go a long way toward strengthening relationships and employee engagement. A fully accountable team also adds to any organization’s productivity and efficiency, and the potential benefits are endless. Projects are completed on time or ahead of schedule and the quality of the work improves. Minimal time wasted waiting for a response or for someone else to do their part, and everyone can keep moving. There is also the impact on employee safety. When each team member feels empowered to be part of the solution, many great things can happen.
As with most initiatives, if it is going to be truly successful, the owners and leaders of the organization need to fully support it. If they are not fully committed to creating this new culture, how can they expect anyone else to be engaged in making this Culture of Accountability? Leaders need to hold themselves accountable just as they would have the people who work for them. Eventually, everyone understands that this is the new way of doing business. As people adjust and make mistakes or let old habits seep in, give them friendly reminders about the new expectations and work with them to improve. u
Eric Knaak is vice president of operations for Isaac Heating & Air Conditioning in Rochester, N.Y. and past-chairman of the Air Conditioning Contractors of America (ACCA). For additional information, visit isaacheating.com.
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