Constructive Accountability Enables Individual and Agency Success

agency team working together

Personally and professionally, I have found accountability to be a good thing. Defined as “an obligation or willingness to accept responsibility or to account for one’s actions,” being accountable helps us fulfill our commitments. Your ability to do so is even greater if you have an accountability partner who has similar goals and an equal commitment to your mutual success.

So, what is it about accountability that makes it the exception and not the rule in most sales organizations? I often hear agency executives and sales leaders say they want to establish a culture of accountability, yet they are never quite able to attain it.

Maybe it’s time to think about accountability differently. Accountability shouldn’t be a dirty word. Do you think of accountability as an all-or-nothing way to measure whether annual sales goals have been met? What are the consequences for those who fall short of those goals? Assuming there are consequences, accountability may have a negative connotation.

What if you started thinking in terms of constructive accountability? By that, I mean something that serves a useful purpose and that helps construct (as in “to build up”) employees. Now you’ve got the recipe for creating a positive culture of accountability in your agency.

Constructive feedback is critical

According to the Association for Talent Development, feedback is an essential component of accountability, and most agencies are getting it wrong. Their studies show:

Employees complain they don’t get enough feedback. They often feel insecure over not knowing if their managers approve of the job they are doing.

Employees despise the annual review. They view it as an event that is designed to highlight failures, shortcomings, and weaknesses. Ironically, the annual review is the primary tool many agencies use to provide the very feedback employees want and need throughout the year.

A few years ago, I was watching my son take his certification test on the final day of sailing class. Advanced certification required him to rig a boat, navigate a course, round a buoy in the bay, return to the marina and dock his boat, all on his own.

As I observed the class of young sailors, I noticed that one student was struggling to maintain his heading and was clearly not going to round the buoy. But once the instructor sped over and provided feedback on how to correct it, the student was back on course. After some sail trimming and rutter maneuvering, he accomplished his goal. Had that feedback not come when it was needed, that young sailor and his little boat could have faced a far different outcome.

That experience illustrates why real-time feedback is incredibly important. It facilitates learning and enables one to improve and adjust one’s performance in the moment, rather than having to address problems after the fact.

Providing context

Imagine having a producer on your team who seems to open a lot of doors, but rarely closes new business. Will you be able to help them improve by meeting with them at the end of the quarter to review their numbers and provide constructive feedback based on their lack of new revenue? Probably not.

You cannot manage a number, but you can manage behavior. So, rather than wait for the quarterly numbers report to tell you what you already know, why not spend a couple of hours in the field with this producer?

Find out what is holding them back from closing sales by hearing what they are saying (or not saying) in front of a prospective client. The constructive, real-time feedback you provide will be fresh in their mind, as well as useful in the future.

Better yet, roleplay with the producer. Demonstrate how you would have communicated with the potential new client and then have them roleplay with you as they perfect their skills.

As a leader, if you regularly practice constructive feedback that focuses on developing your team, accountability will come easily and become part of your agency culture.


Three little words

Accountability conversations aren’t always easy. When leaders must address difficult issues, those conversations are rarely fun. However, keep in mind that those discussions don’t have to be especially negative or confrontational. If one of your team members lacks in accountability, rather than being accusatory, try starting your conversation with this simple statement: “Help me understand.” For example:

Agency Leader:Sheila, please help me understand why you weren’t able to complete your commission report by the time it was due.”

Sheila: “I was really busy with back-to-back renewals and I ran out of time.”

Agency Leader: “You knew you had the renewals coming up and that your commission report was due. Both items had a specific deadline. Is that correct?

Shelia: “Correct.”

Sales Leader: “As you know, this is a very important report. Our accounting department counts on your commission report review so they can pay producers on time and accurately. Please help me understand what you will do to better manage your time so this doesn’t happen again.”

Sheila: “Going forward, I will schedule time on my calendar to complete my commission report review and deliver it to accounting before the payroll cut-off.”

Sales Leader: “Thanks, Sheila. I appreciate your recognizing the importance of this and prioritizing it on your calendar. Remember, if you need help with the report, the accounting team is available to review it with you and answer any questions you might have.”

By using the simple statement, “Please help me understand,” the leader is providing Sheila the opportunity to discuss what happened while also letting her know that her actions must be corrected. What could have been an encounter with finger pointing and excuses ended on a positive note and reminded her that help is available if she needs it.

While “help me understand” is three little words, they speak volumes when used in this context. Not only do they address a multitude of situations, they also are vital to helping you build a culture of constructive accountability. Try it out. I think you’ll be amazed by the results.

Happy selling!

The author

Kari Glennon, a sales and marketing professional within the insurance industry with nearly 25 years of experience, is a senior consultant at Sitkins Group, Inc. The majority of those years were spent in the independent agency world. She has been an owner and partner of a firm, perpetuated her firm externally, and spent time as the chief sales officer for one of the largest middle-market insurance agencies in the nation.

Her true passion is to deliver strategy, inspiration, insurance knowledge, and coaching for independent insurance agencies. She is fluent in property and casualty, employee benefits, life insurance, and captives.

Kari lives in the Pacific Northwest. In her free time, she enjoys traveling, sailing in the Puget Sound, nature walks with her dogs and spending time with her three children.

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