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Understanding Accountability through “Selling Socks”

When I attended college as an undergraduate, I had a part time job selling shoes at a popular shoe store in a shopping mall located 10 minutes from my house. It was a great job. I enjoyed the people I worked with and I made commission which classified me as one of the wealthiest undergraduate students in the history of Buffalo, NY (especially when winter hit and people came in to purchase boots priced in the hundred dollar range).

I also enjoyed working for my manager, but one day my assistant manager came up to me and told me that I needed to “sell more socks.” Socks? Yes, socks. I was scolded for not selling enough. I asked my assistant manager if I was the lowest sock-selling-salesperson at the store and he said, “yes.”

I sold approximately one pair of socks per week and the other salespeople sold approximately two pairs of socks per week. I thought that those numbers were low for everyone, so I decided to approach my assistant manager with an idea as to why I thought sock-selling was so low across the board.

“I think that the price of our socks are too expensive in our store,” I said to my assistant manager one day.

“Too much? No way. And, prices are set by our corporate office, so you have no say over how much they should sell for, anyway,” he said.

“But, to pay $8.00 per pair in our store and $4.00 per pair in a store just down the hall really does make us overpriced in the eyes of the consumer,” I said.

“Either sell more socks or be fired,” my assistant manager said.

This same example can be applied to our schools.

There are root causes and all sorts of angles as to why our organizations do not achieve according to the goals that we set in our schools.

In the wake of accountability standards, we can either recognize the potential root causes of “poor performance and outcomes” or we can ignore them and stick to our guns by pinching people’s brains as to what we tell them they must do OR ELSE.

Don’t our students deserve that we speak up about something that just doesn’t add up or do we continue to move forward with holding others accountable for things that have more of a story behind it than we can possibly even imagine or explain?

I'm not opposing the need for accountability. But, if someone from your organization has an idea on how to “sell more socks,” will you listen and figure out a solution to make achievement more obtainable or will you discount them (this pun was intended) all in one fell swoop? Remember, for every outcome (positive or in need of improvement), there is a story.

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