The Magic of the Report Card

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, was not really new and History was dates and people you learned about for a test and then that became 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.
This single piece of paper focused you, it energized you and it served as your dash board. 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 it from some of the people who were.

According to my fellow students, 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. You only feared it if you didn’t perform.

I have a question for business owners and leaders: what is your business 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. Employees are reviewed and evaluated.

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!” is the mantra of the owner.

However, employees and managers also believe and will state if asked, that they are also in charge of everything. (Just ask them). After all, employees and managers 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 (be a leader versus a 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 often the problem, and not the solution. The owner hides behind the endless task list so little of consequence is actually delegated.

The owner does not 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 a thankless undertaking. 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.  But before the report card can produce magic, there has to be a report card.

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