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How One Value Added Reseller Took Accountability

This is an accountability success story of regular people just doing their jobs. They weren’t trained in Six Sigma, yet you’ll see concepts of that process improvement methodology in this story. They had a process problem, not a people problem, yet fingers were pointed, blame was happening, and the problem was growing bigger each day. Once they saw it as a process problem, not a people problem, they started to make progress and step up to being accountable.


young african american businessman presenting figures at a meeti

My client was an operations manager in a VAR (a value added reseller buys computer hardware, adds their software to it and then sells it). Their hardware supplier began to have quality problems with their product. These devices had to be returned in a 30-day window in order to receive a credit. If they did not return them in that time period, they were stuck with them and had to eat the cost. These units were called RMAs (return merchandise authorization).

They were losing money every day because of this. The problem was costing them over $300K. It was clear that they needed a better process to clean up the backlog of units and prevent it from happening again, yet the support and sales teams were pointing fingers at one another.

The operations manager pulled the teams together, so they could assess where each department was coming from. Much blaming, focusing on what can’t be done, whining and finger pointing was evident.

As soon as the teams started working together, it was actually someone who had been complaining the most that jumped in and volunteered to lead the fix. By him stepping up, empowered to solve the problem and bring the teams together, he led the charge for the group to tackle other issues as well.

It is the people closest to a problem who can best solve that problem. When employees think no one is listening to them, or that they have no power to do anything about problems, things can quickly become negative, the problem gets worse and people stop owning the issues.

Why does this happen? It could be lack of clear roles and responsibilities, not enough communication, poor alignment, or no role models showing how accountability works.

Their success in turning around this team came from how pumped up everyone got by the chance to resolve their issues. Here is a snapshot of how this group moved into ownership and responsible behavior.

  1. The sales support manager volunteered to lead the fix

  2. Everyone committed they were in it together

  3. Over four weeks, they met three times with all stakeholders to investigate changes and improvements

  4. They developed a new process flow and plan based on these meeting

  5. They communicated this new process flow to the extended global team

  6. The sales support manager delegated all work instructions to be rewritten

  7. A key person volunteered to train personnel in new process

  8. They assigned Directly Responsible Individuals (DRIs) for each region

What was the outcome of these efforts? Forty-five days later their RMA units had dropped from 253 to 117, saving the company $204K.

What is getting in the way of you feeling empowered to solve problems in your workplace? What conversation do you need to have about that? Please add your comment below, or share with me on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook or email.

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