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Accountability: Sharpening Your Competitive Edge to Develop Loyal Customers

By Walt Zeglinski

Walt ZeglinskiIn today's highly competitive business climate, most successful companies are finding new and creative ways to win business. By building customer-centric business plans and increasing their commitment to company-wide execution, they've managed to succeed in a turbulent economy. Most of all, they've discovered they simply cannot afford to make mistakes in their customer relationships. They strive to "out-execute" the competition in every aspect of their business that touches the customer. These organizations understand that the key to creating loyal customers is building a culture of accountability.

Most of us have heard the stories of accountable employees who have made a difference – the 911 dispatcher that stays on the phone and calms a caller until the EMT arrives or the jewelry clerk in a department store that helps a customer to pick out a new dress. Unfortunately, there are far more employees that do not share this commitment to customer accountability and, as a result, fail to deliver on their goals.

Organizations that foster accountability run like well-oiled machines, as people and processes work in lock-step to achieve more predictable and profitable results. I'm not referring to the sort of organizational accountability that focuses on catching employees doing something wrong. Rather the kind of positive accountability that is combined with high levels of employee satisfaction – as individuals are enabled with the right resources and management support. From the outside, these organizations appear to have some magical formula that helps them win even as others are struggling to stay in the race. We have found three keys to creating a culture of customer accountability – exceptional leaders, process discipline, and workforce engagement.

Setting a Direction
Establishing a customer-accountable culture starts with developing exceptional leaders. They are the navigation system that guides employees toward the finish line. These leaders have a foundation of management expertise that can maximize the talents of their teams as they keep them focused on their customers. Fifty years of client research has led us to six job functions that are critical for exceptional leaders – communicating, planning, organizing, controlling, staffing, and leading. Leaders who are effective at these functions consistently elevate the performance of their people.

Transforming leaders from average to exceptional requires they get beyond their perceptions of their abilities. Managers who understand the impact they have on others have been given a unique gift. In our experience, "feeling" the perspective of others is a significant catalyst for getting managers committed to improving their skills, attitudes and beliefs. Gaining this realistic perspective can be transformational. Unfortunately, many managers subscribe to the adage "if it ain't broke don't fix it", content to continue with the management practices that have allowed them to be successful in the past. But when market conditions are constantly in flux, leaders must be exceptional. They must find new and better ways to improve performance.

Doing Things Right
Process discipline is the fuel that accelerates customer accountability. Leaders who hold their teams accountable for exceeding customer expectations establish a systematic approach to monitoring progress and taking corrective action. This typically involves a regular, top-down examination of goals and tasks, enabled by a plan for overcoming obstacles to success. But a consistent methodology is not enough if there is not a clear understanding of the importance of customers to accomplishing key business drivers. Identifying and planning to execute on these "vital few" is the key to energizing employee commitment to individual, departmental and corporate goals.

In years past, many companies have been able to succeed because of great products and people. When markets get tough, accomplishing the same results requires more. A "flexible" approach to goal achievement can encourage mediocre performance. Process discipline drives accountability and insures success even in a turbulent economy.

People Make It Happen
Leaders who support employee development and clearly communicate goals enable workforce engagement. For many organizations it's the engine that drives accountability. When an individual feels leadership is aligned with their efforts to serve customers and understands the role they play in achieving the company's vital few, they tend to maintain their customer needs-focus. It helps them to show up for work on purpose and provide their employers with the discretionary effort that can distinguish them from competitors. An engaged employee views each customer experience as a "moment of truth" — an opportunity to deliver value and create another loyal customer.

Ultimately, workforce engagement enables commitment to excellence. When individuals understand how their dedication plays into the organization's broader goals, they see themselves as part of a team and work to better themselves to ensure the whole team wins. What's most interesting is how an environment of engaged employees can thrive, not only because it's a great place to work but also because it creates a vibrant, productive culture that delivers predictable and profitable results.

Customer-accountable cultures with exceptional leaders, process discipline, and an engaged workforce have the unique ability to establish a competitive advantage. Companies with an uncompromising commitment to leadership, process and people, by extension, are committed to their customers. Accountability makes customer loyalty possible.

Walt Zeglinski is CEO & Chief Client Advocate for Management Action Programs (MAP), a performance-improvement firm that helps organizations achieve profitable growth. MAP's performance and process solutions establish the disciplines that create a culture of accountability. Walt has over 20 years of successful experience in the corporate performance industry, with expertise in developing and implementing practical solutions for complex business challenges. He has worked with executive teams across most industries including financial services, healthcare, technology, hospitality and manufacturing. For more information, visit www.mapconsulting.com or call 888.834.3040.

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