Expectations and accountability Featured

10:46am EDT February 24, 2005
Do the following statements sound familiar?

* "My salespeople are not selling as much as I expect them to."

* "My administrative people are always coming in late."

* "My engineers never seem to finish their projects on time."

* "My service people don't treat our customers as they should."

I hear comments like these all too often from business owners who don't understand why these things are happening. My response is simple -- have you given these employees expectations?

Consider two construction companies that perform similar work. Company One's trucks are dirty, looking like they haven't been washed since they left the factory. In contrast, the trucks from Company Two look brand new. They are well-cared-for, have no dents and are clean inside.

Is it a coincidence that Company Two outperforms Company One?

While the condition of the trucks isn't the primary factor that makes a difference, the trucks are an indicator of major differences between the businesses. Company Two's culture is based on setting expectations for the performance of the company and its employees. Expectations are set for everything from sales to quality to profits to how employees should treat equipment. Setting high expectations, then holding people accountable, is the norm at Company Two.

Company One's culture is the opposite, and its trucks reflect that. No expectations are set for how to treat and take care of the trucks or for any other employee performance or behavior.

It is difficult -- if not impossible -- for companies to succeed unless their employees are performing up to expectation. But employees need to understand what those expectations are. Management must set and communicate expectations so that they can hold their staff members accountable.

Being told what performance and behavior are expected and being held accountable is a major shift from many companies' old cultures. And, like any other culture change, changing to an expectation and accountability-based culture requires strong management commitment, a good deal of time and effort and a lot of grief.

However, few investments pay off as well. Organizations with cultures that are based on performance expectations and accountability, where employees know what is expected of them, outperform their competition.

Joel Strom (jstrom@cp-advisors.com) is the founder of Joel Strom Associates. His firm works with closely held businesses and their ownership, helping them set and achieve their growth objectives while maximizing their profitability and value. Reach him at (216) 831-2663.