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Accountability.

I used to work for a major retailer back in college. Loss prevention. My mission was to protect assets from both external threats, like shoplifters, and internal threats, like employees that either stole time or expensive cologne.

There was plenty of both.

I learned very quickly about profiling, and while not ideal in many situations, it almost always rang true when checking the cameras or sales floor for potential would-be shoplifters.

They were always teenagers, always in pairs, always daring each other to act, and sneaking around so explicitly that it was easy to hone in on their behavior without much effort.

“Is this your first time?” we’d ask back in the office, recovered clothing in hand, about to make a phone call to Mom or Dad.

“Yes.”

Almost always, it wasn’t.

Mom or dad would show up, not surprised it had happened again, and wanting to take vengeance immediately. “Uhm, not here, sir or m’am. Not on our property. But after we release your son/daughter…”

No one had held them accountable. Much.

One girl, in particular, had a pattern so bold that once I caught on, it was easy to track her previous months of using our store as a rental closet. She wouldn’t steal, per se; she would just use our liberal return policy and carefully knot back on tags to get a new dress for Friday night and drop it back off on Monday or Tuesday for a full refund.

She was very upset when I asked why, what she was doing, and for how long she’d been at it. A trespass notice later, and I bet she found another chain to abuse with her scheme.

I accounted for her outstanding balance and store card. She was pissed off!

One time, I came in early to observe some of our long-time employees. The late-night cleaners worked alone and were never supervised, and yet no one bothered putting two and two together regarding missing merchandise.

It wasn’t difficult to record a video of a bottle of cologne traveling from underneath the counter, in a trash bag, out the back, and into the dumpster for later retrieval.

When I asked why, there was no answer, just a smirk and something about a “young fella who should’ve looked the other way…”

“How long?” I said.

“Oh, ’bout twenty years, I recon…”

I had a hard time calculating the overall loss, including clothing, jewelry, cologne, housewares, you name it.

Accountability catches up. Sooner or later, someone’s gonna notice, and when they do, get ready for some consequences.

Lehman Brothers, anyone?

I tell the kids on the bus that “this ain’t a carnival ride” and neither is life.

Keep your hands inside the vehicle at all times, do the right thing, and when things go south, and you’re in charge, you better claim ownership and take responsibility.

Even if you catch the guy who’s been with the company forever, doing something wrong.

Hold the conversation. Explain the impact. Set an outcome. Move on.

If you don’t, those around you will notice, and realize they can take you for a ride anytime they’d like.

And you’re not the village bicycle, are you?

Be accountable.

To those you lead. To those you work with. To yourself.

If not, why bother at all? No one will follow you anyway.

And yes, taking accountability is hard stuff. No one likes hard conversations. No one wants to follow the rules, policies, and guidelines all the time. Cutting the corner is so much easier.

But don’t be surprised when someone new rolls in with a different lens, and isn’t afraid of a little friction. Holding people to a standard is what allows us to measure forward progress. And if we can’t measure, it ain’t happening. Both losses and wins. Right?