The False Choice: Inspiration vs. Accountability

Organizations tell their people,  “Be the best. Delight customers.  Put a dent in the universe.”  It sounds inspiring at the annual meeting.  But what does it really mean on a day-to-day basis?

When Nike says their mission is to, “Bring inspiration and innovation to every
athlete in the world,” what does it mean for the guy packing boxes in the warehouse?

IKEA proclaims,  “Our vision is to create a better everyday life for the many people.” How does that translate to the behavior of an hourly worker taking customer service calls in a windowless cube?

A leader’s ability to translate aspirational vision into daily measurable behaviors is what determines whether an organization will be exceptional or merely ho hum.

Nike and IKEA notwithstanding, in most organizations when the rubber meets the road in daily operations, lofty inspiration often gets replaced with a mandate to “hold people accountable.”

Accountability is a funny thing.  Everyone wants their coworkers to be held accountable.  But if your boss tells you that he or she is going to start holding you more accountable for certain behaviors and metrics, it’s a rare person who thinks, “Oh goodie.  I was hoping my manager would be more rigorous in their assessments of my daily actions.”

We love inspiration; accountability is not always as fun.  But good leaders don’t choose between the two.

Our client, Foundation Supportworks, is a family-owned $100 million dollar foundation supportworks logocompany with 265 employees based in Omaha, Nebraska. They’re the leading manufacturer of foundation repair and stabilization products. If your basement is leaking or the foundation of your property is caving in, they can fix it. Or as they like to say, they not only fix it, they “fix it forever.”

Foundation Supportworks is in an industry where most contractors don’t have great reputations.  But Foundation Supportworks has a long history of excellence with customers and employees.  With a positive culture and excellent track record, they were ready to get even better.

First, we decided to set them apart with an aspirational noble purpose:  We are defining the contracting business.

President Dave Thrasher says, “People are inspired to join our team, and they stay with us because of ourpurpose, which is to Redefine our Industry. You can see our purpose being engrained in our culture and lived out every day when team members regularly share photos of the work they do and share them on social media with the hashtag #redefiningourindustry.”

Dave Thrasher
Dave Thrasher

Purpose is the North Star.  Foundation Supportworks’ purpose tells the world:  We are not just a regular contracting company.  But the leadership team knew inspiration alone was not enough.  They had to be specific about what redefining the contracting industry means for employees, customers and dealers.

Thrasher goes on to say, “I use our purpose on a daily basis to promote specific behavior.  For example, if someone were to leave a job site messy or not treat a customer well, I would ask, ‘Is this redefining what customers expect of a contractor?’  While “good enough” may be acceptable for most contractors, that’s not redefining the industry, and doesn’t align with who we are and why we exist as an organization.”

Foundation Supportworks is equally committed to redefining the employee experience for blue-collar workers, who in other businesses are often treated as mere “labor.”  Thrasher says,  “We regularly ask our team, “What are we (management) doing that’s getting in your way?  How can we help you redefine our business in a better way?“

Inspiration and accountability aren’t mutually exclusive.  Inspiration is the destination.  Accountability is the road map to get there.

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