Accountability: Painful but Necessary

The way that any one of our employees does his or her job has enormous repercussions with the public and with the company.

July 31, 2003


Kim Sweet

Now that every other journalist in the country has had a chance to write a Jayson Blair column, it's my turn to take a crack. (Blair is the former New York Times journalist who resigned this year after being caught plagiarizing and inventing facts.) Blair undeniably did wrong, but so did his bosses. An internal investigation found that more than one editor either did not check to see Blair was meeting New York Times' standards or knew that his performance didn't meet the paper's standards and did not address the situation thoroughly, either by helping Blair correct the problem or firing him.

One of the most interesting outcomes was the uproar from Blair's colleagues, the frontline reporters and writers. Why had he received promotions and accolades for inaccurate work while they toiled in the trenches? The shock waves from this incident will be felt within the company's culture and management even longer than with the paper's readers.

Let Blair's story serve as a warning to us all, journalists or not. The way that any one of our employees does his or her job has enormous repercussions with the public and with the company. It is our obligation - indeed, one of the most important things we do as managers - to define performance standards and hold everyone accountable to them.

Certainly ethical standards matter, as do qualitative criteria such as communication skills and the ability to work as part of a team. But when it comes to turning a profit, making deadlines and keeping customers happy, you'll quickly find it's much easier (and more equitable) to manage what you can measure (to paraphrase management guru Peter Drucker).

Those of us who fancy ourselves artists as well as businesspeople, who came up through the trade or the craft, don't necessarily take kindly to the idea of being evaluated against a set of metrics. We are firm believers in high-quality workmanship, whether writing or finish carpentry, and often value the creative and constructive processes above all else.

Metrics save us from ourselves. They keep us and our companies on time and on budget. They push us to accomplish what we never dreamed we could do. They insist upon high performance, not just in the hands-on building and remodeling craft but in all areas of the business - sales, estimating, purchasing, scheduling and customer satisfaction.

Unfortunately, these metrics don't just appear on your desktop one morning, nor can you adopt them wholesale from someone else's remodeling company. This stuff has to come from the top down, with a leader who shapes a culture of accountability, who knows the goals for the business and can explain to employees what it will take to get there.

In the first of many cover stories for Professional Remodeler, associate editor Meghan Haynes tackles the topic of managing with metrics. She spoke to managers and owners who realized that their already good companies could become even better. The arduous path to improvement required thoughtful analysis and planning in addition to the willingness to plunge into the abyss, a dominant quality among those who dare to start their own business.

Understanding metrics required an investment of time and training in everyone in the company. Some employees didn't like the new rules and decided to leave. Managers had to learn how to hold their people responsible without coming off as constant naysayers.

Were the results worth the pain? Finished Basement Co. in Denver is now doing twice the volume it did two years ago with half the overhead. You be the judge.

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