I am frequently asked what the single most important thing there is to do to improve overall business performance. We know from years of direct experience there are three things that separate an extraordinary company from all the rest in any industry. The first of those is to employ a management system. The second is to have managers who are both highly skilled and operating as a high-performance team. And the third component is to have a leader with a mindset focused on dominating the market.
That’s the top-level view. When one drills down in each of those three areas the list becomes longer and longer. But, like all things in life, everything does not have equal weight. At the top of my list is accountability. Particularly when the company has a culture of accountability we find a very high likelihood the company will be in the top 10 to 20% of their industry.
There is a myriad of things to do that result in an improvement in topline and bottom-line business results. Again, taking a fairly high-level view, there are several key components. The owner of the business needs to have a well-established vision. The organization needs to be driven by an overriding strategy. Annual operating plans should be in place. There should be a well-established mission statement and the organization should have a set of core values. All potential resources need to be identified and assembled.
The organization needs to recognize that its staff is it’s most important asset and needs to be treated as such. Everyone needs a clear position description. All the employees need to be evaluated on a periodic basis. Compensation needs to be in line with actual performance. And, the company needs to practice top grading its staffs’ skills and abilities.
Of course, everyone needs to be highly productive. Things simply need to get done.
Turns out there are quite a few things people do that actually don’t have much effect at all on how a business performs. In general terms activities including advertising, fancy websites, innovative packaging, new product offerings and similar things have marginal returns. Now, I don’t mean they shouldn’t be done. The point is unless the upstream components (the ones we’ve already mentioned above) are in place, these small incremental adjustments will not have much impact.
Create an Accountability Culture
The best thing to do is to install a culture of accountability. In its simplest terms, accountability means that everyone is keeping their word. Everyone is standing by their commitments. Everyone expects everyone else to keep their word and stand by their commitments. When that cultural behavior is firmly established, we find truly astonishing performance levels. This attribute is so important that when it’s truly in place, companies can get by without annual planning, job descriptions, performance evaluations, fine-tune strategy and others.
In summary, there are a lot of things to do to improve business, but one thing has the best overall return. That one thing is accountability. All companies need everything we’ve mentioned in this article. But, many companies with everything except accountability don’t do very well overall. And, many companies with not much else except accountability end up doing very well.
So, the first thing you need to install is a culture which includes everyone setting high quality goals, doing their level best to complete the goals on time; and, everyone holding everyone else accountable to those goals.