Holding Employees Accountable

Brian Cole Miller is the principal of Working Solutions Inc., a Dublin, Ohio–based management training and consulting firm. Miller spoke with JCK about his latest book, Keeping Employees Accountable for Results: Quick Tips for Busy Managers.

Why do companies seek your help?

They approach me because they’re feeling pain. They can’t get their people to work hard enough. They’re looking for help and answers. That’s where I start from.

How do you deal with businesses that resist change?

Setting up a system of accountability for their employees isn’t terribly different from what they see otherwise in their lives. You set expectations, you have accountability for your actions, you get feedback, and you face the consequences. We follow these steps in holding society accountable. The challenge is to get them to apply these lessons to their business.

What challenges do smaller businesses face trying to implement better accountability?

They don’t have the corporate support network to implement these initiatives like a larger company does. They tend to have small staffs, and the owners and managers wear a lot of hats. They don’t have human resources people to help them. So there’s a resistance to holding people accountable, setting goals, and giving them the feedback they need, because you don’t have a buffer and worry that your staff will resent you. Another issue is that a lot of mom-and-pop businesses are set in their ways; they’ve been doing the same thing for many years, and many have the attitude that if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. You also have the younger generation coming up trying to change things and butting heads with mom and dad.

Do smaller companies have any advantages in setting up a system of accountability?

The greatest advantage is that you don’t have to wait for corporate approval to make changes. You have the speed and flexibility to react quickly, jump on things, and make changes in your business immediately.

Does turnover affect accountability?

Having an accountability system will help you manage your business and lower turnover. When you hire new employees, they know right away what your expectations are for the week, month, three months, six months, year, etc. You show them how you will measure their performance, give them feedback, and tell them right up front what the rewards and consequences will be if they meet their goals or fall short. It’s not always about money. One of the biggest reasons people leave is that their managers didn’t communicate with them effectively.

Isn’t performance hard to measure in a business like retail jewelry?

There are ways to measure relationship building with customers, whether it’s how many referral customers a salesperson gets per month, how quickly they should greet the customer, whether or not they smiled while talking to the customer, how many times they should say the customer’s name during their presentation, etc. It’s important to have your people take an active role in collaborating with you to build the accountability program, because then they will be very clear on expectations, feel more ownership toward it, and they can help you whittle it down to what’s truly important.