How a Learning Culture Builds a Key Competitive Advantage — Employee Accountability

I’m on the road a lot, so I tend to find myself in a lot of different Starbucks coffee shops. And while they all sort of look alike, someone like me can pretty easily spot the best shops where the baristas develop a relationship with and care for their customers, as opposed to the shops where everyone just seems to be going through the motions.

So recently I found myself in one of the better kinds of Starbucks. A drive-through customer had just sped off without his breakfast sandwich, which he’d left at the window. Eileen, one of the staff, grabbed the sandwich, darted out the front door, and over to where she knew the car would be slowed down by traffic. Crisis averted: The sandwich was still hot and delivered with a smile. Very impressive.

I’ve actually seen the exact same thing happen before at a different Starbucks in another state. Again, I saw a customer drive off from the drive-through window (he’d at least remembered his coffee, but left the sandwich sitting there). However, that time, the barista just shrugged it off and said to his coworkers, “Just hold it; maybe he’ll come back.” Much less impressive.

So what makes one person dart and deliver and another do nothing? According to motivational speaker and author Sam Silverstein, “Some people achieve extraordinary things in life; others do not. The difference between the two groups lies in accountability.” And as he says — and as the Starbucks story shows — “accountability is your competitive advantage.”

So that begs the question: How do you help your employees become more accountable for their personal performance and the overall success of your business? Consider these three ways to build more accountability into your culture:

Share meaningful information

Many times the reason for less-than-stellar workplace accountability is simply that employees don’t have all the facts to understand the big picture. They don’t understand how their actions affect the bottom line. Consider weekly team focus meetings, a weekly company-wide e-mail, or create an intranet site that keeps employees connected to factual, meaningful, and valuable performance information.

Set expectations

Clearly define performance expectations. Share what “done right” looks like with each employee. Without clear expectations, employees have little guidance about expected and preferred behaviors. They have no standard. Although many employees may be personally accountable, knowing the cultural expectations in the workplace allows them to respond in the right way. Spend time with each employee to define company and specific role expectations.

Constantly educate

Constantly educating employees, both formally and informally, introduces them to expanded thinking. Not only does it encourage greater opportunity-thinking, it develops their skills to be able to perform in more significant ways. Develop a training plan for each employee that focuses both on greater learning (new topics) and on personal skill development (improved daily performance).

Accountability — the commitment to exceptional personal and professional performance — is truly an organization’s competitive advantage. Employees who have access to meaningful information, know what is expected each day, and are committed to learning have the tools to be fully accountable.

Image used under Creative Commons by Flickr user Tequila Partners.

Jay Forte is a nationally ranked thought leader and President of Humanetrics. Jay guides organizations — their leaders and managers — in how to attract, hire and retain today’s best talent. He is the author of Fire Up! Your Employees and Smoke Your Competition and The Greatness Zone – Know Yourself, Find Your Fit, Transform The World. Jay is a member of SHRM, ASTD, the National Speakers Association and the Florida Speakers Association. follow him on Twitter.