“A culture of accountability makes a good organization great and a great organization unstoppable.”
So wrote Henry Evans in his bestselling book, “Winning With Accountability.” And, as far as creating a roadmap for a more effective organization, it’s wisdom that I like to pass on, too.
Like Evans, I would argue that accountability is often the single most important lever powering successful restoration companies. Unfortunately, it usually has a negative connotation, as people connect accountability with blame, incrimination and fear. As a result, many try to avoid it whenever and wherever possible.
But true accountability is a virtue, and it should be seen and valued as a powerful force for greatness. Far from shunning the topic, it should serve as a cornerstone of your culture — a culture that will play a critical role in your future success.
Why is culture so important?
Why is it worth the time for restoration company leaders to focus on improving their culture? As Peter Drucker once famously said, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” In other words, no matter how good your strategy is, your ultimate execution and success ride on the rails of your company’s culture.
Whether it’s efficient, dysfunctional or somewhere in between, your culture reflects the core of your organization. And especially in smaller or mid-size restoration organizations, that culture is primarily influenced by the founders and owners. When it comes to managing that influence, actions speak louder than words.
Every organization has a culture, whether planned or unplanned. As such, taking the effort and the initiative to nurture a more sustainable culture can be a critical investment in your future. And it’s an excellent foundation for growing a truly unstoppable company.
5 steps to creating a culture of accountability
There are several ways to build accountability into your culture. For best results, I recommend following a comprehensive blueprint that you can apply across your entire organization. It should include a focus on five key elements: Clarity, data, patterns, transparency and interaction that are based on fact, not emotion.
1. Clarity. Clarity is one of the most critical elements of effective accountability. My football coach used to say that “cloudy minds make slow feet.” Lack of clarity slows processes, dulls awareness and erodes trust.
To be clear, you must be specific, consistent and work to overcommunicate. Ask yourself, what does success look like specifically? What steps do I need to take to achieve it? How will we measure success? What are the consequences of hitting or missing the mark, and how will this impact the company, the customer, the team, the individual?
To answer these critical questions, think O.P.E.R.A.:
Objective – Set clear targets and expectations.
Plan – Have a clear plan of action, including steps, milestones, checklists, prompts, etc.
Execute the plan (go and do).
Review results, trends and consequences.
Adjust – Tweak the system, praise wins, learn from mistakes and apply to the next OPERA.
2. Data integrity. Bad data can destroy trust and break systems. Data must be clean and complete — if it isn’t in the system, it didn’t happen.
How often have you questioned something on a report and were told that the data was inaccurate? “Hey, it says here we haven’t seen this company in six months.”
“Oh, yeah, I forgot to enter that, but we’ve actually seen them several times in the past six to eight weeks.”
Could you fly an airplane with faulty instruments? Maybe on a slow day with nice weather, but what if you’re flying in a storm? It would almost be better if the instruments didn’t work at all, rather than giving you the information you can’t trust. Much like how instruments allow pilots to fly blind, clean data builds trust, allowing your company to run smarter and faster at scale.
3. Pattern management. If you put one nail through a board, the board can be twisted and turned in an entire circle. But if you add another or even several more nails, the board stays fast and firm. When you’re analyzing to improve people, systems and processes, it is most helpful to look at trends over time using multiple perspectives across many data points. In other words, look for patterns.
I once had an employee who always seemed to be late. He always had a great story, and the circumstances were always beyond his control. One day, I created a simple calendar highlighting every time he’d been late over the past 90 days. We were both surprised at the obvious pattern laid out before us in full color, showing that he had a real problem getting to work on time, regardless of valid reasons or lame excuses.
At a certain point, it didn’t matter what had happened to make him late on a particular day — the pattern was too powerful to be ignored. Patterns speak louder than individual circumstances.
4. Correction without emotion. Address behavior and choices versus making it personal. Whether addressing an individual, a team or the whole company, use reporting metrics to talk objectively about performance and impact. Discuss reasons for performance issues, but don’t allow excuses. Listen intently and be willing to adjust based on mutual feedback but be very slow to move the goalposts.
With rare exceptions, you should set your budgets, objectives and SLA/KPI targets, and hold them sacred for their stated periods. Spend more time building trust and rapport than you spend on corrective conversations. Try to catch your people doing things right, and then take a moment to celebrate or call them out on their awesomeness.
Remember, good is the enemy of great. You might pay little attention to accountability standards and still find a way to grow a good company. But especially at a time when customers and employees have more choices than ever, and margins continue to grow thinner, becoming a truly great company in the long term requires 100% accountability throughout your entire organization.
5. Transparency. Incorporate open readouts to calibrate progress via WIP and other reports, SLA metrics and KPIs. Make sure system updates are timely and accurate. Don’t allow off-the-cuff info and updates during a readout: If it’s not in the system, it didn’t happen. If information needs to be added to the record, do it right then and there as a part of the readout. It will be painful for a few cycles, but stick with it and you will be amazed at how quickly the process self-regulates.