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The magic of the report card

Posted: April 6, 2014 2:00 a.m.
Updated: April 6, 2014 2:00 a.m.

It is Spring break; time off from school for students of all ages. This time of year is when students bring home progress reports from school and conversations are held at home about grades earned in the classroom.

I remember those parental conversations, some were not pleasant. New Math, it turns out, wasn’t really new and History remains dates and people you learn about for a test and then become part of your history.

Like many people, I have mixed memories of the time I spent in school but I remember the one tool that really worked universally was the report card. Those pieces of paper were the alpha and the omega of the student experience, from preschool through graduate school.

The report card focused you, it energized you and it was your dash board, and if you shared the results with others, it also served as a measurement that ranked you versus your peers.

I heard rumors that somewhere in the schools I attended there was a list of the highest ranked students; but since I was never on the list I heard about if from some of the people who were. Apparently, being on that list was a motivator and having the opportunity to be at the top of the list created competition, which is also motivating.

The report card was the all purpose tool of accountability. I have a question for business owners and leaders: what is your version of the old fashioned yet highly successful report card?

Accountability is a very strange spice. Owners like it for others but not for themselves.

Employees clock in, fill out their time cards. There are checklists, procedures, flow charts to follow.

Managers write reports. Power Point presentations are created and displayed. Evaluations performed; raises awarded, or perhaps not.

Everyone seems to be held accountable for something very specific except for the person at the top.  “I’m in charge of everything!” seems to be the mantra of the owner.

However, employees and managers also believe and will state if asked, that they are also in charge of everything.

After all, they are being held accountable for everything.

It’s true that the owner is responsible for key performance areas of the business and should operate more like a conductor of the symphony than the first chair violin player (leader versus technician) but they often don’t.

Many owners I know hire people and don’t allow those employees to operate to the appropriate level of authority and responsibility. Everything and everyone waits for the owner’s approval before proceeding.

These same owners complain how hard they work, moan about the long hours they put in, and come up with excuses as to why they don’t, won’t or can’t take more than a couple of days away from their business for a decent vacation.

The owner is the problem, not the solution. The owner hides behind the endless task list so little of consequence is actually delegated.

The owner doesn’t want to be held accountable for doing anything specific because that means they will be at the same level as their employees.

But without regular, candid accountability of the metrics that drive not only the business but the business owner, growth of consequence is likely to be minimal and fleeting.

Being a business owner is tough. It can be thankless. There are nights of lost or little sleep and the constant worry about something going wrong or worse, something not being done that was promised.

Brian Tracy said that the mere existence of goals improves performance. Having a system of formal accountability will close the performance gap of current results to goals and give the owner a report card he or she can be proud of. 

Ken Keller facilitates The Wise Owners Advisory Boards, bringing business owners together for education, sharing and on-going success. Contact him at Keller’s column reflects his own views and not necessarily those of The Signal.


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