Accountability, communication, comprehension and consistency. These four words can mean the difference between success and failure at a car dealership.
Accountability is defined as “the quality or state of being accountable; especially an obligation or willingness to accept responsibility or to account for one’s actions.”
Think about it. Quality. Obligation. Responsibility. These are powerful and often fearful concepts. Yet, every day we all are held accountable for something. And, generally, accountability is a two-way street — people and organizations are accountable to each other. For example, a mortgage company agrees to accept the obligation of loaning the outstanding value of a property to a buyer, who in turn agrees to be accountable and repay the loan with interest on time each month. Teachers take on the obligation of educating their students according to the required curriculum. Students (and parents) are accountable for attendance, homework, behavior and studying.
Yet, when it comes to our jobs, accountability is what most people fear most. No one wants to be held accountable, least of all salespeople. We can learn more about why this is by looking at communication, comprehension and consistency.
Communication is defined as “a process by which information is exchanged between individuals through a common system of symbols, signs or behavior.”
An exchange of information. This would seem pretty simple, yet miscommunication is as common as clear communication. Often, it happens even more often, especially in business. As a manager, it’s not enough to think that employees know what is expected. It’s also not enough to simply tell them. People communicate in different ways and require different resources to ensure communication is remembered and learned. Some learn by hearing, others by seeing, and still others by doing. Effective communication requires all three methods. Tell your employees, show them and then have them do it.
Even so, is this enough? Do people remember after a single communication? In our world today, there is so much “noise” that for communication to truly be effective, it needs to be repeated and recorded. Managers must clearly tell employees every day what is expected in their job, for their sales and/or customer service performance, how they are measured, where to go for more information and how to handle challenges or problems.
Employees must have access to materials and resources that can make their jobs easier and to set them up for success. For example, if your business uses the internet, be sure your employees have full access to internal resources as well as to the customer view of your business as reference tools.
Comprehension is defined as “the act or action of grasping with the intellect; understanding.”
Do your people understand what they are accountable for? Most people will answer “yes,” yet most of the time, they make mistakes or fail to meet expectations because of a lack of understanding. Comprehension cannot be assumed. Without a clear understanding, employees either do what they think should be done or what they feel like doing. Rarely are expectations met that way.
Comprehension comes when an individual fully understands what is being done, how it must be done and why it matters. To fully comprehend, an individual must be involved in the process. They have to understand the benefit for the customers and themselves.
If you ask someone to jump off a bridge, 99 percent of the time they will ask why. They need to understand before acting, because it could be their “final act.” The same is true in business to a less dramatic extent. If something is asked of someone, it’s best that they know why.
Employees perform better when they understand why processes exist. Often, simply asking questions will provide a reality check on whether an employee understands, and if management is communicating clearly. This is not a dress rehearsal.
Consistency is “harmony of conduct or practice with profession.” Another primary cause of misunderstanding is a lack of consistency from one manager to the other, or even by the same manager.
If employees are not educated on processes and expectations, and the manager leaves staffers wondering what to do, how can those employees be held accountable if the rules change day to day? Managers must be consistent.
If changes are made, management must back up, communicate what employees are responsible for, ensure comprehension and apply the new standards consistently. Only then can managers hold employees accountable and the business achieves sales and service excellence.
Have you ever wondered why an airline pilot walks around the plane before takeoff and then meticulously goes through a checklist before starting the plane? Even pilots who are 25-year veterans consistently go through the same process before every flight. That pilot knows — comprehends — that the procedures and processes that have been communicated are in place to ensure that the plane and its passengers arrive safely at a destination, a trip he is accountable for.
Accountability, communication, comprehension and consistency, when taken to heart and applied by dealership management, truly are the four most important words in achieving excellence.