From Teacher to Entrepreneur to Accountability Advocate

Lessons from the Classroom

What I really loved about classroom teaching was that it wasn’t about teaching at all. It was about learning. And my job was to facilitate learning by executing the following objectives:

  1. Creating an environment conducive to learning
  2. Setting clear learning and behavioral objectives
  3. Offering a variety of instructional methods
  4. Sequencing lessons effectively
  5. Asking the right questions
  6. Providing daily feedback for reinforcement
  7. Modeling the values and behaviors I expected from my students
  8. Holding students accountable for their part in the learning process by following through with consequences both positive and negative

After all, if I didn’t follow through with consequences what would my students think? Was I just kidding about the importance of learning? Wasn’t I serious about the pass/fail outcomes? Or, was all that homework just busywork? One thing was certain-if I failed to apply my rules and standards fairly, someone was sure to remind me!

Time for Change

Another advantage of classroom teaching was that there was a beginning and an end. The expectations were clear. Also, there was no confusion about the end goal: pass the year end exams and advance to the next level. Along the way there were many opportunities to practice, assess, fail, try again, and succeed. So what could motivate me to leave the cozy classroom for the corporate conference room?

It was the day I had to jump on the back of one fourth grader to pry his hands from the neck of another student. I knew this was the predictable result of a lack of accountability upstream in the system. Failure to hold problem students accountable for their behavior at the system level left others vulnerable. As a result, I began looking for other opportunities. A corporate learning position would be a good fit. It would allow me to use my teaching, classroom management, creative, and motivational skills in a new environment.

Expectations vs Reality

As it happens, my husband, who had spent fifteen years as a medical sales representative, was ready for change also. So, in the mid 1990’s we decided to quit our jobs and start our own business. It was a sales training and consulting business built on his exemplary sales skills and my exemplary teaching skills. It led to many excellent business, learning, and personal growth opportunities.

We set out straight away delivering sales training and enablement services to our clients’ salespeople. Long term contracts and repeat business gave us the opportunity to regularly check in with clients. We wanted to observe progress and ensure they were utilizing their new sales skills.

What I discovered was that our training engagement produced only a short term bump in both sales and motivation. Why? Without the managers’ engagement in the initial event, subsequent follow up, and commitment to hold salespeople accountable, nothing changed.

Lessons from the Workplace

Whether I served as an outside consultant or an inside employee, issues around accountability remained constant. Companies continue to spend tens of thousands of dollars on training events without putting accountability measures in place.

I saw first hand what happens when organizations lack accountability systems. Here are a some examples from my own personal experience:

  • A Sales Vice President of a Fortune 500 company had to fire their best salesperson because they held their sales people accountable for the wrong metric – call volume over call duration.
  • The entire executive team of my new employer were jailed for lack of financial accountability.
  • Senior executives held grueling day-long sales forecast calls because they didn’t trust the forecast as presented. This was due to lack of accountability for following established sales process guidelines.
  • One client company was taken over by an activist management company due to poor governance and accountability practices.
  • Sales managers provided opportunity management training (at great expense) but neglected to hold salespeople accountable for using the analysis and planning tool they paid for.
  • The COO who proclaims, “We are all responsible for the number” but neglects to provide details necessary to measure performance and accountability. The bottom line is that:

When everyone is responsible, no one is held accountable.

Mitzie Adams, Sales Strategy Execution

Insights from the Workplace

  • Accountability starts at the top, but I can’t recall seeing a corporate strategy that makes sense.
  • Job descriptions, goals, and performance objectives resemble elaborate “to do” lists. Sure, the items on the list can be marked complete, but that is hardly accountability.
  • Existing performance management systems reduce employees work, effort, and accomplishments down to a number. This doesn’t inspire loyalty, engagement, or accountability.
  • There’s never enough feedback – especially about the things that matter most. Employees want and deserve regular feedback that provides direction and confirmation.
  • Workplaces are full of good people who want to do what they do best every day and be heard and recognized.

The deepest principle in human nature is the craving to be appreciated.

William James

My Mission as an Accountability Advocate

The opportunities for improvement in workplace accountability practices and systems are enormous. I want to inspire you as leaders and managers to embrace accountability as a strategy for achieving your goals. You can do this by assessing the current state of your culture against the future state. Where are you and where would you like to be regarding accountability?

The good news is that with a few minor changes my classroom objectives are entirely appropriate for the workplace. They will expedite your effort to improve your accountability practices. Here they are:

  1. Create a culture of accountability.
  2. Set clear expectations and performance objectives.
  3. Offer a variety of professional development options.
  4. Sequence projects effectively to increase competence.
  5. Ask the right questions when coaching employees.
  6. Provide daily feedback for reinforcement
  7. Model the values and behaviors you expect from your employees
  8. Hold employees accountable for achieving results by following through with consequences both positive and negative

The experiences I am sharing in this post are not unique. Typically, we take things at face value without realizing the underlying cause as a lack of accountability. Improve accountability in your organization by applying the objectives above. Use them to set and communicate your expectations, coach your team members, and hold your employees accountable. And, I’m giving them to you for free! Now use them.

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