Create Accountable & Responsible Employees
In reality, every owner wants to create accountable and responsible employees.
There’s no question that it’s much easier to achieve long-term success with a focused team. When companies operate at this level it’s like capturing lightning in a bottle. Maintain it and you’re on the road to creating profitable growth.
The million-dollar question is: how do you get it started?
Don’t find fault, find a remedy.
Anybody can complain.
It doesn’t matter how tough it’s been or how challenging it might be. It’s time to step up and be accountable and responsible for finding a solution.
If you want accountable and responsible employees, what’s your plan? When I ask business-people this question—I don’t get a lot of great answers.
A fairly common response is: those kind of people just aren’t available if they were I’d hire them. At the same time, there are good people who would love to have a great place to work. Where they can — actually have —accountability and responsibility.
These two groups should be able to connect but often don’t. It’s an interesting effect that happens far too often in today’s economy.
There’s a reason why the effect is consistent across small to medium-sized companies. Understanding why the effect exists gives a good frame of reference for tackling the challenge and it provides a head start towards finding a remedy.
Early on in a company’s growth, it’s not vitally important to have a plan for creating accountable and responsible employees. The owner is normally on the premises during business hours and can directly handle most of the customer and supplier interactions. Even as the company begins to grow it’s fairly easy for the owner to keep an eye on things.
But then as the business continues to increase the owner can’t personally oversee or attend to everything. Employees start to become the face of the organization. Their performance affects the reputation and the profitability of the company. This is when creating accountable and responsible employees becomes critical.
The need to have a plan sneaks up on most business-people. By the time it hits their radar—most owners already behind—and they aren’t sure how to catch up. This typically happens at a stage of development when there are also several other important business priorities competing for the owner’s attention.
Combined these factors make it hard to find the time to develop and implement a workable solution. The worst-case scenario is—companies struggle for decades. It’s hard to break the cycle. It feels like you’re a day late and a dollar short all the time.
What’s needed is an efficient and effective plan that will deliver results even in these challenging circumstances.
Creating an Accountable & Responsible Team
The first step is to consider the definitions of the words accountable and responsible. The pathway towards the results you want starts with clear definitions of these words. Most people find it difficult to define one without using the other.
Try it for yourself: what is accountability?
It can be confusing, but it’s important to have working definitions that are relative to the challenge at hand. Maybe Einstein can help, here’s one of his more humorous quotes.
When you are courting a nice girl an hour seems like a second.
When you sit on a red-hot cinder a second seems like an hour.
Relative to the business challenge at hand: accountability is defined by three things the person:
is Answerable for the results,
has the Authority to make choices and decisions related to it,
and they have to pay Attention to the performance.
Responsibility is the ability and willingness to respond effectively to the task or function that’s been assigned.
Examples for Clarity
In a baseball game when a grounder is hit to the shortstop, they field it, and throw it to first base to get the out, they have responded effectively so they are response-able or responsible. They are the doer in this scenario.
The coach is still accountable because they’ve put the player in that position in the lineup and they also design and run the practices that build the skills that enable the players to play the different positions on the field. They are the thinker.
Another example: an installation manager with three tradespeople is accountable for the performance of the department, but the tradespeople are responsible for delivering quality installations.
In a small company, the installation manager is likely accountable to the owner. This means they’re answerable for performance & will have to regularly update the owner via meetings or reports. They also have the authority to make choices & decisions related to the department.
Although a newer installation manager may have to consult with the owner prior to implementing significant changes. They also have to pay attention and be aware of how the different functions within their department are being performed. “I didn’t know” is not a valid excuse when someone is accountable.
The installation manager also has to ensure the tradespeople are response-able. This normally means that systems are created & documented, training plans are initiated, Key Performance Indicators are established, feedback routines are implemented and standards are set. Standards are important, they involve things like attitude, politeness, dress codes and teamwork because as Einstein also said:
Not everything that can be counted counts,
and not everything that counts can be counted.
This might sound like everything is being offloaded to the installation manager. This is not the case, the tradespeople have to be responsible, follow the systems, and perform up to expectations. The work of the installation manager can also be described as clearly setting the expectations, training people to be able to meet them, and monitoring ongoing performance.
ARE you Ready?
There is an interesting dynamic at play here: Accountability, Responsibility, Expectations. (ARE) It’s a two-way street. The person who is accountable has expectations of the people who are responsible. The people who are responsible have expectations of the person who is accountable. If this goes out of balance it can turn into micro-managing and become a demotivating workplace. On the other hand, when the gears ARE meshing together well they deliver serious ‘horsepower.’
As a general rule, it’s important to the employee who is responsible to have a good working relationship with the manager who is accountable. This means they have to respect each other as individuals. If it’s not happening there will be a negative impact on the responsible employee’s willingness to perform.
The company’s objective is to perform the functions efficiently and effectively. Improvements ARE welcome and two-way dialogue should take place regularly.
Here’s another question: if someone doesn’t actively participate in achieving the objective do you really want them in your company? I’m not saying you should start firing people, I just want to clearly identify the type of environment you want in your company.
Knowing what you want and being able to visualize it are both parts of the remedy.
Planning for Accountability and Responsibility
The next step in the process is to identify functions within your company that are prime candidates for delegation. These are likely to be functions that you don’t enjoy, areas where performance is lacking due to inattention, and are almost certainly there aren’t any documented systems of standards established yet.
Next, look to your employees and identify someone who might be willing to step up and accept accountability. Be very clear about what accountability means and let them know that they will be answerable to you as a key part of the process.
No matter how busy you are resist the temptation to cut this short. They need your feedback. Initially, this should be a fairly frequent face to face meeting. The frequency can be reduced as time passes — if the performance is there. This may evolve into an emailed report. But, it’s important to invest the time upfront.
There are two other important aspects of accountability. Respect their authority to make choices and decisions, but clearly set guidelines that establish when they should consult with you and get your input first. This can be dialled back if and when performance meets standards.
Also give them the assignment of creating and documenting systems that are part of the function, plus a description of the standards expected. This will help them to be more effective at ensuring their direct reports are responsible.
The third aspect of accountability is attention which essentially means that they should be thinking about the functions they are accountable for – frequently enough – to know what’s happening. “I didn’t know” is simply not a valid excuse.
Most of us let our minds drift. It’s possible to snap them back to attention. Time and time again the level of performance is determined by what’s in a person’s train of thought. Be clear that habits of thinking are part of accountability. Review this during your answerable meetings.
If you’re thinking: my employees don’t think. The lights are on, but nobody’s at home most of the time. Then you might benefit from re-evaluating your approach.
Meta-cognition is thinking about your own thinking. It’s a learned ability, but at the same time, it is fairly uncommon. It’s something you can train people to become more fluent with it. Explain then follow up with frequent questions until they get it. “When you first started the task, what were you thinking about?” Or try this one. “What do you think about when problem A happens?” You should be able to easily create a list of up to effective questions.
There are many good thinking questions that you can develop and put into a training format to be replicated with future hires. Each time you’ll also learn something new so think of it as an inventory of questions to be maintained.
One person can be both accountable and responsible for the same function. This is often the case in small companies, but it doesn’t mean that they should get a pass on understanding the different meanings of the words.
They should still know how they are expected to be accountable and responsible. It’s still important to document the systems and standards in case the company grows or the current person moves up or on.
You don’t have to tackle the whole company at once, but if you have more than one area to delegate and more than one person ready to accept accountability then go ahead with both. Think about approaching the challenge like Edison or Einstein would: run a series of experiments.
Know the objective – developing a company where accountability and responsibility are the norm – and keep working towards it. Don’t expect perfection right out of the gate. The transition can take time, particularly if you’re shifting from a less than optimal culture.
The secret to change is to focus all of your energy,
not on fighting the old, but on building the new.
Wise words, it can take a sustained effort to get the results you want. You may as well pick the shortest route. Having said that: shortcuts don’t always work either. It’s a good idea to think it through.
A baseball coach wouldn’t walk on to the field at the start of the season ask the assistant coach to hit him a grounder, field it, and say to the players “that’s how it should be done.” Then walk off the field expecting the team to field grounders perfectly for the rest of the season. That would never work.
But when something goes wrong at work I’ve seen many company owners shake their heads and say “I already told him that” which is basically the same scenario.
Responsible people have good habits. It takes repetition to develop habits. Your new hires are going to—develop habits anyways—whether you give them guidance or not. It makes good sense to have someone accountable for the process and ensure the habits your new hires are developing become a good fit for your company.
Another thing I often hear owners ask is: isn’t it me who is ultimately accountable for everything? The answer is yes, but if you delegate accountability to your staff, who are they answerable to?
Another Important Piece of the Puzzle
It’s important to create a compelling focus for the people in your company.
Why? Because your employees aren’t likely to work harder just so you can have a bigger house or a nicer car.
It’s not about you! There are other factors that must come into play. They go well beyond ‘old school’ management. Here’s another quote from Einstein that illustrates the point.
If people are good only because they fear punishment,
and hope for a reward,
then we are a sorry lot indeed.
To create a workplace where people buy into and accept accountability and responsibility it’s best to put the focus on the customers your company is designed to serve. It can be phrased as a Company Promise that your staff will be proud to keep.
An example for a restaurant might be: “Great food, fast service and a down-home friendly atmosphere with sparkling clean premises.” Then the question becomes: ARE we keeping this promise with every customer every single time?
Again repetition is important. It’s easier to introduce a Company Promise into a younger smaller company than a company with some long-serving employees who are set in their ways. In that case, it will clearly take more repetition. It can be valuable to have a business coach keep you on track and hold you accountable through this stage. The question for the owner is: do you want a company that sets a worthy promise and keeps it, or not?
As you work through the experiments all the different functions involved in keeping the promise and operating the company will eventually get covered. Ideally, each and every function should have a person who is accountable and only one person accountable. This avoids a circle of pointed fingers.
Early in a company’s development, it’s almost always the owner who is accountable for the functions with the most common exceptions being the bookkeeping and accounting. This often has unforeseen drawbacks. It can make it difficult to manage profitability. For more on this.
We ARE the keepers of the Company Promise – a short sentence that puts it all together. When you achieve this your experience in business will surely be more like courting a nice girl than sitting on a red hot cinder. In fact, it will change your life. There is nothing like owning a strong profitable company—that you built!
Efficient systems and effective training programs allow companies to hire for attitude and train the skills they need. It’s always the best recipe for success.
People looking for work will assess the company’s work environment, As a general rule naturally accountable and responsible people won’t accept the job or stay around long if they have to work with slackers in an unorganized environment.
Also if they aren’t given accountability and responsibility they are likely to move on to another opportunity where it’s offered — you’ll lose them.
Nobody says it’s easy, but it’s well worth the effort.
There will be surprises, setbacks, twists, and turns. That doesn’t mean you settle for less than you want. Create another experiment designed to establish accountability and responsibility and always believe that you ARE going to be successful.
Do you Want Accountable and Responsible Employees? was written by John Cameron – ROCK SOLID Business Coach – firstname.lastname@example.org