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The Five Elements of Effective Accountability Management


Without question, Accountability Management is a critically needed, but rarely well-practiced, discipline within the retail automotive industry. Before and during his training and consulting career at NCM Associates, Garry House adopted this discipline as the umbrella under which all of his client engagements would be developed and presented. His mantra was, and still is, “Everything we’ll talk about during our work together will fit somewhere under one (or more) of the Five Elements of Effective Accountability Management.” Those elements, in no particular order of importance or priority are:


  1. Plan your work, and work your plan!

  2. Clearly define and communicate your expectations.

  3. Measure what you intend to manage, and inspect what you expect!

  4. Reward positive results, and respond appropriately to negative results!

  5. Develop and implement a systemic structure! (“Dissimilar” people operating within the same systemic structure will produce “similar” results.)

Some dealers do a better job than others in practicing the accountability management discipline; but the most-successful fully understand that accountability management mandates that:


  • You cannot manage results, just activities! Manage the activities, and the results will follow! You MUST measure what you intend to manage, inspect what you expect, and let everyone know the score!

  • When we deal in generalities, we will never succeed; when we deal in specifics we will seldom fail. When performance is measured and inspected, performance improves; and where performance is measured, inspected, and score-boarded, the rate of improvement accelerates!


Therefore, these most-successful dealers measure ALL their key performance indicators (KPIs)… they regularly inspect these KPIs…they very visibly post these KPIs for all to see, and then they let the egos take over.


These dealers KNOW that, if they are disciplined to do THESE THREE THINGS, the performance of their store(s) will improve…even if they and their managers may not effectively practice accountability management elements 1, 2, 4, and 5.


Now imagine what might happen to performance if ALL FIVE ELEMENTS are effectively practiced!


What is Accountability?


There's a lot of talk going on these days about accountability. For some, it's important for their professional lives (i.e., setting business goals, keeping on track, being responsible, etc.) For others, it's more personal (i.e., diet, weight loss, exercising, etc.) Whatever the case, it's important to understand what accountability is, and ultimately, how it works.


When it’s all said and done, a workable definition of accountability might include the following elements: Taking responsibility for your own behavior; doing what’s right consistently; demonstrating personal integrity, and actively participating in activities and interactions that support the strategy of your dealership organization.


Now let's consider what accountability isn’t. Accountability is not something you “make” people do. It has to be chosen, accepted or agreed upon by the people within your dealership. People must “buy into” being accountable and responsible. For many, this is a new, unfamiliar, and sometimes, uncomfortable way to work or live. Learning how to become accountable involves an element of discipline. Most importantly, individual purpose and personal meaning comes from accepting responsibility and learning to be accountable.


Holding people accountable is really about the distribution of power and choice. When people have more choice, they learn to be more responsible. When they become more responsible, they earn more freedom. By being accountable, they earn the trust of managers and coworkers. When they are more accountable, they understand their purpose and role within the organization and are committed to making things happen.


Can You Make People be Accountable?


Let's consider that idea. Accountability exists when all employees at every level can be counted on to do what they have agreed to do with no surprises. Unfortunately, you cannot make people accountable, at least in the sense of willingly committing to do what is asked without threat, coercion, intimidation, etc.

Real accountability is voluntary. It is taking personal responsibility to the next level by contributing beyond mere requirements. So you cannot make someone be (feel) accountable. What you can do, though, is set up the right conditions. Six elements are required:


  1. Know and communicate your strategic direction and your core values. Develop a plan and let everyone know what it is and how they fit. Articulate your core values -- what you stand for and, not incidentally, the basis for how people will make decisions. Consider that in today's knowledge-based environments, according to the Conference Board, the average employee will make up to 100 decisions each day. In accountable organizations, people know where the organization is going, what it values, and how those values should influence day-to-day decisions.

  2. Get your processes and measures aligned. Measures drive performance and behavior providing a focus on results. Processes define how work is performed. If one or both are out of sync and/or not aligned with your strategic direction, progress will not be made or the results will be skewed.

  3. Hire the right people. Most leaders hire for skills and knowledge. While these are important, the real predictor of success on the job is fit. Will the person fit into your culture? Are they willing to participate? Will they support the game plan? So look for fit in your hiring efforts, or you may be looking at turnover, voluntary or boss-induced.

  4. Work with individuals. You need to go one-on-one with people to provide direction and input as well as feedback, even with experienced hires. Employees generally are not psychic and each comes with a different set of knowledge, skills, abilities and motivations. In accountable organizations, leaders think like mentors, coaches and trainers…not like "the boss".

  5. Monitor progress. Regular follow-up with each individual on a routine basis is critical. Your role here has three elements -- give feedback, remove obstacles, and find resources. Help people live up to their full potential.

  6. Be persistent; be consistent. The last step, just sticking with it, may be the most difficult of all the steps. As anyone who has created a New Year's resolution knows, the tough part is not deciding what to do; the hard part is doing it consistently over a long period of time. Develop a system for yourself to put the first five elements in place and then execute consistently day by day.


How do you Hold People Accountable?


We hear the question, in one form or another, repeated by executives in every setting: “How do I hold people accountable for positive results?” The more fundamental question is this: “How do you, their boss, perceive your role and theirs? Our experience with executives, confirmed in reliable studies, is this: The number one predictor for a person’s actual performance is the expectation of that person’s boss.


If you harbor a fundamental distrust of them, or you bear more of the responsibility for them than they do for themselves, here is what you would be doing:


  • You specify their goals for them.

  • You establish a host of check-ins and report processes.

  • Surreptitiously, you ask other people how the person is performing.

  • You accept feedback about them from others rather than steering the feedback to them directly.

  • You take over their responsibilities.


This begins to look like a parent who is more concerned about a child's homework than the child is.  The implied message to the child: "I'll keep on your back because I believe you won't do it!" Therefore, the dance of over-functioning begins, the parent protecting the child from tasting failure, the child resisting responsibility.  From there it's a downward spiral of increasing parental worry and the child's growing inertia.  Who says businesses are not like families?


This is what it looks like when there is a fundamental attitude of trust on the part of the boss and the person is responsible for her/his own performance:


  • You ask them to draft their own goals

  • Both parties are clear about the consequences of above-par / par / sub-par performance (“consequence” is not just a negative word!)

  • You ask what support they’ll need: from you, from the dealership, from outside.

  • You ask how often they need to meet with you for coaching.

  • You ask if they’d be willing to mentor someone else.


Of course, you need to work with a rookie differently from a seasoned pro, but the fundamental attitude of trust and personal responsibility can, and should, be established even with the most inexperienced neophyte.


The question about holding them accountable redirects back to you, the boss.


  • What attitudes might you need to shift in order to uphold their responsibility (e.g., the urge to control, or the demands of you own ego?)

  • What work needs to be done by you or by them to specify expectations and consequences?

  • How can you assume a supportive servant role vs. a policing role?

  • How will you manage your own anxiety about their performance?


There is challenge enough in those questions to keep you occupied while they focus on their work!

For accountability to happen, management practices have to embrace the notion that less control is critical. Fewer controls and more decision-making in the hands of jobholders will also result in greater levels of employee engagement, higher trust levels and reductions in some of the negatives like turnover and absenteeism.


Do fewer controls mean a laissez faire approach? Of course not. Clear goals and measures, follow-up, and an execution mentality are also important. The change is putting measurement and execution in their proper focus, as tools, and not as ways to punish people. The change is also putting more control in the hands of employees. People just simply do not become accountable if they have no responsibility for anything.


How to Build Dealership Accountability


In many respects, dealership accountability begins with a state of mind. It is the commitment of the employee to deliver the value expected by the manager with no surprises. To move employees toward that state of mind, the manager must create the conditions for accountability and commitment to happen.


Barriers to employees being accountable often include the style of leaders, who in many subtle, and not so subtle, ways actually stifle accountable behavior. Lack of accountability can also stem from structural or process issues. These may include lack of formal business planning, failure to communicate goals, little or no follow up, poor hiring decisions or inadequate delegation. The astute leader never looks to a single cause for low accountability.

Building an accountable dealership takes time and effort; there is no quick fix. But the results can be ground-breaking and sometimes earth-shaking.

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