Sam Silverstein Blog

Accountable leadership creates accountability in the workplace!

You may have seen an amazing piece on the news recently about a Southwest Airlines flight attendant, Vicki Heath. Her story, which quickly became the kind of viral social media topic most companies only dream of generating, was a testimony to that airline’s remarkable, enduring capacity to make passengers feel not just good, but great about its brand. In these days of crowded terminals, late flights, and customer-service breakdowns, that’s an achievement, one that’s worth examining closely. First, I’m going to tell you Heath’s story, just in case you haven’t heard it yet. And then I’m going to tell you why accountability made that story possible.

On a flight out of Houston, Vicki Heath struck up a conversation with one of her passengers, Tracy Sharp. Sharp has Down Syndrome, which as you may know is a genetic disorder associated with mild to moderate intellectual impairment. As they chatted, Sharp happened to mention that becoming a flight attendant was one of her major aspirations in life.

How unusual is it for a flight attendant to have a conversation like that with a passenger? Maybe not all that unusual. What was unusual, though, was how Heath followed up on that chat.
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Transparency: The Secret Weapon of Accountability in The Workplace

Sam Silverstein Blog

  • Transparency means involving everyone you can in the conversation, and giving people all the information they need. This is the secret to accountability in relationships with team members – and with customers.

Many organizations focus so much on how their employees are going to treat the customer that they make a classic mistake: They fail to address the equally important issue of how the organization’s people treat each other. Leaders in these companies often overlook one of the secret weapons of accountability in the workplace … namely, transparency.

By this I mean my commitment to you to be transparent with you, to tell you what’s really going on. Transparency, the habit of telling the truth even when there’s a sensitive issue or a problem that might make me look bad, is one of the things that makes an “It’s all of us” mindset possible. This “It’s all of us” mindset is one of the things that allows organizations to deliver great service to customers. And as leaders, we need to commit ourselves to supporting that mindset.
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Sam Silverstein Blog

Don’t call it P.R.: Starbucks takes a stand for community service.

Leaders at successful companies, I’ve found, are consistently accountable for following through on commitments that align with four distinct organizational values. These values can be expressed, in broad terms, as follows:

  1. Foundational Values. What we stand for as an organization; our organization’s fundamental character.
  2. Relational Values.How we treat and connect with people inside our organization as well as outside our organization.
  3. Professional Values.What level of excellence and performance we expect within the organization.
  4. Community Values.How we feel about, participate in, and support our community.

In future blogs, I’ll be looking at each of these values in depth. To begin with, let’s consider that last one, community values, through the lens of a global brand that everyone knows about and most of us have an opinion about: Starbucks.

It’s likely that you not only passed a Starbucks today, but that you also heard about the recent fallout from one Starbucks store’s discriminatory treatment of two African-American guests. That incident in Philadelphia back in May set off an important national conversation about racial attitudes and public accommodations .. and it also led Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson to hit the interview circuit to publicize his company’s response to the event.

That response included in-store diversity training events held at each and every US Starbucks location. At the time, many observers expressed scepticism that these training events could have any meaningful impact on the underlying attitudes that had led to the problem … and some people even accused Starbucks of pulling a cynical P.R. stunt with these training programs.

I agreed that a few training events would be unlikely to transform deeply-held discriminatory attitudes quickly – and by the way, so did Johnson, who was careful to point out during interviews that these sessions were only the beginning of a long journey for his company. But when it came to the idea that Starbucks was “only” doing all this for public relations purposes, I had to disagree.

Listening to Johnson, I became convinced that he was indeed committed to addressing the underlying problem that had led to such an extraordinary moment for both the country and his company .. no matter how long it took. And I also became convinced that he was authentic in his efforts to use this event to help Starbucks become a better company – a company driven by a desire to live up to the right core values.

One of those Starbucks values, it turns out, is serving the community. A recent news story offered clear proof that Starbucks is putting its money where its mouth is when it comes to being accountable for fulfilling its commitment to that value. CNN reported that Starbucks is now testing a program that will allow some of its employees to “spend half of their (paid) workweek at a local nonprofit.”

That’s accountable leadership. That’s Johnson following through on his clear, stated commitment to give something back to the community. That’s a step in the right direction, and it deserves to be recognized as such.

In collaboration with Points of Light, a nonprofit volunteering group, Starbucks selected 36 Starbucks Service Fellows in 13 cities for a special pilot program. For six months, these Starbucks employees will spend at least 20 hours per week working for Starbucks … and up to 20 hours per week supporting a local charitable organization. The employees will contribute their talents to nonprofits that align with Starbucks’ philanthropic priorities, which include supporting refugees, veterans and military families and youth, eliminating hunger, protecting the environment and offering disaster relief.

All of the work is “on the clock,” thanks to a financial grant the Starbucks Foundation gave Points of Light, which is using the grant money to pay for the employees’ time. Starbucks is hoping to expand the program over time.

This news is worth noting and celebrating for at least three reasons. First, it serves as a powerful rebuttal to those who argued that Starbucks’ interest in correcting its mistake in Philadelphia was only a cynical, short-term maneuver.

Second, the program serves as a model for companies eager to retain and grow their very best employees. Community values, after all, speak to the commitment to the larger world that an organization has, and as such, they are a potent recruiting and retention tool. Employees like to work for an organization that is involved and committed to the community, because people want to make a difference, and they are likelier to stick around when the company’s community values reflect their own. According to Virginia Tenpenny, vice president of Global Social Impact at Starbucks and executive director of The Starbucks Foundation, when the best employees are “engaged in communities and they feel connected, they’re going to stay with Starbucks longer.” She’s absolutely right.

Third and finally, notice that this commitment to the community unfolds in parallel with Starbucks’s ongoing commitment to grow and develop its employees – to help them become the very best they can be. That’s a win for everybody. Accountability in the workplace means being accountable within the enterprise but also being accountable in the community you are a part of.

So. That’s what Starbucks is doing. What is yourorganization doing to fulfill its commitment to community values? Your best employees want to know!