4 Simple steps to build accountability in your small business
The most common request I get from business owners is for guidance on how to hold someone on their team accountable. They are frustrated and frazzled. They don’t want a confrontation, so choose to step in and fill the gaps themselves. The result is a team that is under-performing and a boss who is focused on the wrong things and at risk of burn out.
Here’s a typical scenario and the 4 simple steps to get back on track:
Carla runs a successful furniture upholstery business. Her customers love the quality of the workmanship and the care with which she restores their heirloom furniture. Carla has a team of five staff who are more like family than employees. They have the skills to do high-quality work and she worries about how she will manage if any of them left. Her biggest challenge is holding one employee, Greg, accountable.
“I just can’t rely on Greg to get the job done on time. He’s a craftsman and loves to take his time, sometimes too much time, to complete a piece. Sometimes I must step in and complete the work to get the job done. I monitor his progress closely with regular check-ins and requests for updates. Neither of us likes my constant hovering, but what choice do I have? Our customers trust us to deliver the work on time and Greg doesn’t seem to care if we meet the deadline or not. I appreciate the high-quality work he does, but this is a business and we need to meet the commitments we make to our customers.”
When you have someone on your team who you cannot rely on to get the job done (and done right), you’ve got a problem. What you might not realize is that 9 out of 10 times, you are the problem, not them.
Ask yourself these questions:
- Have I been clear enough about my expectations? Are they realistic? Are they understood?
- Have I applied any consequences for not meeting expectations?
- Have I communicated how this employee’s work contributes to the success of the business?
- Have I provided the necessary tools and equipment to get the job done?
- Have I removed all of the obstacles that make it hard to get work done?
The good news is that getting an employee or a team back on track isn’t difficult to do and it needn’t be confrontational if you follow these 4 simple steps:
- Be clear about what each employee is accountable for. “Greg, you are accountable to get every job done on time.” This is the work you, and you alone, own. When you are accountable for a task, there are consequences for the outcome, positive or negative and you understand that.
- Set expectations. “Greg, you need to make sure each piece of furniture is finished to our high standards free from fabric and finishing imperfections.” It pays to be specific about what you need people to do. The more specific you can be, the less chance there is that there will be a misunderstanding. The clearer your expectations are, the less likely that there will be confusion about what you need.
- Set targets and make them public. Pick a central location to post individual and team targets on the wall. Set daily and weekly targets providing further clarity and reinforcing the commitment to get the work done. Have a 5-minute stand-up huddle each morning to share the expectations and priorities for the day. Making expectations pubic motivates the naturally competitive employees to ‘win’ and the less competitive employees to ‘fit in’. Either way, it will light their fire to hit their targets.
- Track progress and communicate results. At the end of each day, update the wall post to reflect the work that has been completed. End the day with a 5-minute stand-up huddle to share the results with the team. Acknowledge those who met their targets. Ask those who didn’t meet their targets, what got in the way.
It is very important to give team members whose performance fell short of expectations a chance to
explain what happened. Perhaps there is a process that needs fixing. Maybe there were unexpected challenges with the job making the target unrealistic. It is your job, to remove obstacles and set realistic targets.
Implementing this simple process will transform underperforming teams. In many cases, the members of your team will step up. The sense of accomplishment they develop will make them happier to come to work and go the extra mile. You now have a team that is accountable, willing and able to do the job and happy to come to work.
It’s important to note this process also has a way of exposing people who are ‘not willing’ or ‘not able’ to do the job. If they are ‘not willing’, they are in the wrong role and may be better suited to a different one. If a good fit doesn’t exist, you will need to help them exit the company. Keeping employees around who are unwilling to contribute to the team, damages the culture, lowering the performance bar for the whole team and must be removed.
The boost in productivity from the other team members offsets (sometimes completely) that which is lost when an underperforming employee leaves.
If they are ‘not able’, it is up to you to establish a development plan to help them build the necessary skills to succeed. This might involve attending training or working side by side with them to provide specific on-the-job training. Adjusting targets to be reflect existing skill levels will support them as they build capability. Investing in your people will not only build their ability to contribute but will also build their commitment to you and your business.
Accountability is critical for a successful team. Left to self-manage, teams will sometimes avoid it. However, once accountability is clear, formal and widely communicated, it will improve the way your team works.