Create a culture of accountability

Whose business do the members of your sales team spend their energy on? Your initial response might be “mine.” I’m not talking here about what company or leader they work for, though. I’m talking about where they point the finger when things don’t go as they’re supposed to. Speaker and author Byron Katie suggests a thought-provoking way to look at this question:

There are only three kinds of business in the universe: mine, yours, and God’s. Whose business is it if an earthquake happens? God’s business. Whose business is it if your neighbor down the street has an ugly lawn? Your neighbor’s business. Whose business is it if you are angry at your neighbor down the street because he has an ugly lawn? Your business. Life is simple—it is internal.” (1)

Applying Katie’s principle to your sales team’s work environment, “God’s business” might include the market, the state of the economy, whether or not it’s raining, and so on. “Others’ business” includes your competition’s pricing, how fast superintendents are building, the quality of homes the land department is buying, and what everyone else on the team is doing or not doing. Wow! There’s a lot for each person to think and worry about that they have little or no control over. So how do you help your team members stay in their “own business”?

Step One: Set a new tone
Ask your team to consider where they’re spending their energy. Help them see that if it becomes a given that I’m responsible for what happens to me, I no longer have to waste valuable energy coming up with ways to shift the blame to someone or something else. Declare a new mantra for your team: “Ours will be a culture that focuses on our own business—things we can control.” This will empower everyone to use their energy productively while eliminating finger-pointing.

Step Two: Help them see how often they shift the blame
Here’s where you can take your inspiring words and start translating them into everyday experiences for your team. After setting your new team mantra, issue every team member some lighthearted form of “currency.” Give each person ten tokens (or marbles, buttons, etc.), and tell them that you’re going to start charging every time you hear them say that someone/something else was to blame when something didn’t work out. A week or two in, once everyone’s started buying in to the new culture you’re instilling, empower team members to collect blame-shifting fees from each other and boost their “bank account” while helping their teammates get out of the habit of passing the buck.

Step Three: Celebrate the change
Have your team members keep notes about their journey through this process. At weekly meetings, have them share examples from the previous week when they started to complain about circumstances or teammates but caught themselves and took personal responsibility instead. Make this culture shift the focus for 30 days, and take every opportunity to put it in front of your team. Empower everyone to add to a list you post on the wall giving specific examples of God’s business, everyone else’s business, and my business. Have managers point out and publicly acknowledge instances where they’ve seen people take ownership of their situations. Turn the exercise in Step Two into a contest, and at the end of 30 days, crown the person who has held on to the most “money” with the title “Ms./Mr. Accountability.” Make a big deal of this, then just keep the momentum going.

This simple three-step process really works. I’ve done it with my own team and seen a major improvement in morale. I also apply it to clients who have a case of the “If onlys”—when they want to tell me about issues they have with other people who aren’t there, I insist that they focus with me on who’s in the room. You can create a constructive culture where people focus on their own business. In the process, you’ll support your team members in spending their energy in a way that’s much more fulfilling personally and professionally.

(1) Katie, Byron. "Whose Business Are You In?" Byron Katie Blog. 12 Dec. 2013. Web. 09 Aug. 2015.