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How to Kill Culture Through Lack of Accountability

Posted by Steve Riat on Jan 11, 2018 2:16:13 PM

I started my professional career working at a RadioShack and really enjoyed the work. It had all the aspects I enjoy! We served customers, learned all about the new technology and worked with a progressive team of peers. I still remember my first manager Randy. Randy was more than just a manager, he taught us financials, selling skills and much more.


There were seven of us on the team and every year around Christmas we knew we were going to have to work hard with more hours, more customers to serve and more inventory to keep stocked.

blame.jpgWith the Christmas season, there were always a few holiday hires made to cover the longer hours and help us through the busy season. I remember as if it was yesterday, the first hire was Fred (not his actual name). Fred was different from the rest of the crew. He was there to work his hours and leave. He was not interested in really taking care of the customer (sometimes ignoring them entirely) and if there was work to be finished that might take just a few minutes past his scheduled time off, he was out of there. With all the toys in the store at Christmas he was more interested in playing than really contributing.

This is where the culture started to come apart. Randy knew he needed to address the problem, but instead of pulling Fred aside and holding him accountable to the problem, he had store meetings where we discussed poor behavior. We all knew Randy was speaking about Fred. Well, all of us but Fred. Fred continued his same behavior with no change at all.

Next, Randy created a store policy manual. It included:

  • Not leaving work till the store was picked up
  • All inventory must be stocked prior to leaving your shift
  • No playing with the toys
  • Serving the customer above all else

That is just the short list. Obviously to most of us, but not to Fred, this rule book was created to address Fred’s behavior. And you guessed it. Fred came into his next shift to play with the remote-control toys, did not stock the shelves and left when his shift ended even though the batteries were not stocked (Fred’s responsibility).

So, time for another store meeting to address all of our performance. This time the rules were more stringent. Shifts were changed to mix up the people working together and there was a requirement to come in 10 minutes early to make sure you were prepared for your day. The batteries were removed from the toys and if the store was not completely stocked, you were to work through half your lunch to get items stocked.

The impact to the culture was immediate. The entire team was aware of the one single problem on the team (Fred) and they were now aware it really wasn’t just Fred that was a problem, it was also Randy. Not only was Randy not holding Fred accountable, now Randy was punishing those that were accountable and of course Fred continued his behavior. The last part of this whole ordeal was that by removing the batteries (And our ability to have customer try the remote-control toys) sales dropped by 20% which impacted all of our incomes (we worked on commissions).

Jump forward to January 1 when we had to do inventory. (Great idea, Radio Shack. Work your teams through the holiday season and reward them with inventory on New Year’s Day.) We were all diligently trying to get inventory complete so we could go home when it was discovered that Fred was now taking a lunch break (even though Randy bought pizza for the staff). Randy didn’t say a word (even though the color of his face said it all). When Fred returned from his more than an hour lunch break, he asked when the rest of us were going? No one responded because we were working to get done.

After all the performance issues Fred had shown, you might think it would be obvious what people would be kept on for full time and which ones would go. The final result was Randy kept Fred because he could work a certain shift and let go some of the much more qualified and higher performing team members to keep Fred. What Randy didn’t realize was that within a month Fred would be his only remaining employee. The rest of us went to work for the other RadioShacks in the area.

One nice thing about RadioShack is they did publish the districts performance of all the stores in the area. The store we worked in went from the top performing store to the worst performing store in the 4-store area. Each of us that left took our customers with us to the other stores. I continued to follow the progress of our old store for several years (since several of us went on to manage other stores in the district). That store never regained its number one position. Randy moved to several other stores outside the district and I lost touch with him.

What were the lessons of this story:

  • You can’t legislate accountability
  • You must hold people accountable one on one
  • Lack of accountability directly impacts culture
  • Poor accountability will decimate performance

One thing I also learned is that my own failure to hold Fred accountable myself was also a problem. Even though I was not in a position of management, I could have used peer pressure and authentic communication to hold Fred accountable and could have either improved Fred’s performance, or at least kept his lack of performance from destroying the team. As a peer you can:

  • Speak to the person about how their lack of performance is affecting you as an individual. (By not having the batteries stocked, I was unable to make a sale and that cost me money).
  • Hold Randy accountable for avoiding conflict and addressing Fred’s behavior directly.
  • Letting Randy know that removing the batteries does not change Fred’s behavior, but reduces our sales!
  • Being authentic all around with facts about behavior, culture and performance and not taking shots at anyone just to stir.

It is extremely difficult to build a high performing and fun culture. One thing that is easy is destroying it. Next time you see any of the beginnings of Fred or Randy’s behavior, take some time to gather your facts, be authentic in your communication and help build the team, not be part of what tears it apart.


Topics: Business Technology Watch, Corporate Culture, Culture, Accountability

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