How Accountable is your Sales Force?

In recent visits to mortgage companies, I am often asked how management can quickly propel their company to the next level. The simple truth is that bringing in the right talent is the number one strategy that leads to a company’s success. Equally important is the second strategy — hiring salespeople who feel compelled to act in the organization’s best interests. The second effort is all about accountability. These two conditions are drivers of long-term success.

While hiring the right talent is a fundamental building block, it is not enough on its own to ensure success. Why? Because when employees put their needs ahead of their clients’ needs, performance suffers. This is due to employees feeling no need to help their colleagues do great work.

In a excellent book, Scaling Up Excellence, authors Sutton and Rao discuss that accountability is critical for sustainable success. They note that accountability is a two-way street between employee and employer. Employees ought to feel and act like they own the place. Likewise, employees ought to feel like the place owns them too. A tug of mutual obligation is created, according to Sutton and Rao, because being “owners” entitles and encourages employees to push themselves, peers and to support exceptional performance. Being “owned” means that the employees expect, accept, and work hard to meet high standards held and enforced by superiors, peers, clients and customers.

Recent research indicates that the worst-performing organizations are companies that base employee compensation and prestige almost entirely on solo achievements. Under this system, employees have little reason to help other employees, lest they sacrifice personal glory or success for the greater good. They may work on the same team, but they think and act as if they are free agents, ready to jump ship when a better offer comes along.

Companies that follow this path are at risk of joining a long list of failures including Enron, Dewey & LeBoeuf and Countrywide. Once leaders in their fields, these companies unraveled when they succumbed to hiring prima donnas. During our industry’s turbulent times, it is easy to forget that hiring the right talent must also include having employees who are accountable to their company and fellow employees.

Ultimately, accountability is a leadership issue for managers and employees. I was fortunate to spend the first decade of my career at GE who is recognized as a leader in employee development. GE defines accountability as both performance and leadership. Leadership is not just for managers but all employees. For GE, leadership includes supporting the GE culture and other factors that are essential to business success. Each GE employee is responsible for constantly improving their skills and updating how they respond to changes in their jobs and the business environment. Encouraging and guiding your peers to excellence is also key.

To navigate today’s challenging market conditions and achieve long-term success, the mortgage industry would be well-served to follow GE’s lead: Start with the right talent and create a work environment that values accountability in its employees.

Do you have accountable employees in your sales organization? If not, what are you doing to change your culture?