Excuse Proofing Your Accountability Program

uncarring-womanPut an intelligent animal in a new enclosure, and one of the first things that happens is the animal tests for weaknesses that would allow escape. Put an accountability program in place for your salespeople, and basically the same thing occurs. They test the system by trying to find an exception. They try to create a precedent that suggests this “flavor of the month” will pass.

The testing usually takes the form of “special” situations employees toss your way. Here’s a quick, but not exhaustive, list of special situations I’ve encountered (and you have too).

  • Child sick
  • Spouse sick
  • Parent sick
  • Pet sick
  • They’re sick
  • Client “emergency”
  • Need time to “maintain current accounts”
  • Don’t know how to use the CRM effectively
  • Need admin help
  • Not sure how to stick to the program
  • Afraid to “do the wrong thing” (analysis paralysis)
  • Don’t have enough leads to meet prospecting targets
  • Need a bigger territory
  • Need to drop prices to compete

Lest you decide that a meaningful accountability program would be just too draconian to implement, consider the most obvious trait these “special situations” share. Most of them are excuses in disguise. The few that do have some shred of legitimacy (illness, for example) will eventually present themselves as excuses after you ask your employee why he or she didn’t reach the targets for the week or month.

You will notice, once you implement a real accountability program, that your “A” players, the ones you want to keep on your team, will be right up front when an issue arises in their personal or professional lives. They’ll tell you ahead of time.

Your “B” and “C” players, on the other hand, will deal out these special situations like a Vegas casino worker whenever you shine the light on their lack of performance.

To support an excuse-proof accountability program, we recommend accountability targets be set monthly and managed weekly. One good reason for this is that unexpected situations do arise when we need to be away to take care of a personal matter like an illness. If the absence is short-term, then that individual still has time to make up the target.  If an absence is long-term then your human resources policy takes precedence over your accountability program.

Actual client emergencies can be managed with a couple of quick questions to the client. Examples: “When were you hoping we could fix this?” and “If we can’t until later today or tomorrow would that be OK?” After a few such questions, designed to take your client from an emotional “HELP ME NOW” state to an intellectual “actually this isn’t so bad, we can wait” state, your employee can schedule supporting the client into their day and refocus on meeting their accountability targets.

In the case of a true client emergency, your team member can typically either figure out a solution quickly or handoff finding a solution to a representative of the appropriate department (e.g., customer service), who keeps him or her updated on communications with your client.

Special situations are best dealt with up front, at the time your accountability program is implemented. Use the list of common “emergencies” you read above as a starting point for an in-depth discussion with your team. Set up procedures for specific situations Close all the loopholes ahead of time! Then set accountability targets monthly and manage them weekly.

Set strong, clear up-front contracts with your employees then stick to your accountability program even, and especially, when it hurts. One of our clients had a problem with late arrivals to their weekly meetings. The manager started locking the door to their conference room at the minute the meeting was booked to start. Within three meetings, late arrivals dropped to zero!



Hamish Knox

Hamish Knox

Hamish Knox, author of Accountability The Sandler Way: Creating A Leadership Mentality in 20 Minutes a Week, plays an important role in Sandler’s worldwide organization, and is a recognized business development expert specializing in executive sales consulting and sales productivity training. He heads a Sandler training center in Calgary. For more information, please visit https://www.sandler.com/resources/sandler-books/accountability

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