Setting standards Featured

8:00pm EDT April 25, 2009

Think about how much time you spend each day dealing with nonperforming employees in your organization. You may spend a lot of time talking about or doing the job for employees who just cannot handle their job responsibilities.

You also may be placing the extra work on a hardworking employee, whose productivity level might be affected by the extra burden. If there’s a lack of accountability in your organization, you may experience poor employee morale, dissatisfied customers, unmet goals and unclear job expectations.

“By creating a culture of complete accountability, you will never have to worry about any meltdowns in your organization,” says Melissa Hulsey, president and CEO of Ashton.

Smart Business spoke with Hulsey about how accountability affects your bottom line, how to screen for accountability during the hiring process and how to model accountability for employees.

How does accountability affect the bottom line?

The missed opportunity cost is the big issue. Has a new client ever called your organization, only to be put on hold or lost in the voice messaging system? How much busy work does your staff do every day? Has miscommunication ever caused a problem? Reviewing efficiency and accountability in your work force will help improve profitability.

It also affects your ability to retain good employees. Someone has to pick up the slack for the nonproductive employees, many times relying on top producers to do this. This may not be a bad idea in the short term, but over the long term, your superstar may begin to wonder why they are working so hard when their co-workers get away with everything. These employees will soon lose respect for management and, even worse, may begin to look for other employment opportunities. It is critical to communicate performance goals and have systems in place to make sure goals are met.

How can you prescreen employees for accountability when hiring?

Accountability is different for each job and level. By choosing appropriate screening tools, hiring for accountability becomes one part of finding the right person for your organization.

? Ask behavior-based interview questions. Examples include: ‘Describe a major change that occurred in a job you held. How did you adapt to that change? Tell me about a time when your supervisor criticized your work. How did you respond?’

? Listen more than you speak during the interview. You will be amazed at what information is offered just by being silent.

How can a staffing firm help in the accountability process?

Staffing firms give companies the opportunity to try someone for a period of time, usually 90 to 120 days, before directly hiring that individual. Everyone is on their best behavior the first few weeks of any job. What happens after the first month or two? Partnering with a staffing firm that uses prescreening tools and knows your corporate culture, along with the trial period of employment, is a great way to ensure there are no surprises and every hire will be an asset to your company.

How would you handle an employee who is not accountable?

The first step is to establish why. Do they need additional training, is there a short-term personal issue affecting their job, or do they need to improve their time-management skills? Once you have ruled out scenarios like these and it is clear their lack of accountability is by choice, you must address the problem quickly and directly. Discuss clear deadlines and performance metrics with the employee and, most importantly, establish consequences upfront for nonperformance.

How can you improve accountability at your company?

Putting a system in place to build accountability is easy, but takes commitment.

? Set agendas for all meetings. This will keep everyone on task and save time.

? Do not give excuses to or accept them from anyone.

? Give a specific date and time for completion of all work.

? Have the assignment repeated back to you when you delegate work. This will improve communication and understanding of the assignment.

? Provide continuous training for all employees.

How do you model accountability?

Good leaders do what they say they’re going to do, when they say they’re going to do it. When they set the stage, all others will follow suit. Make sure the people at the top are leading by example.

Go back to all the things you learned in preschool. Be on time, listen to and respect others, come prepared to all meetings, follow through on your promises, and play nice in the sandbox. How many times have you read e-mails when one of your employees is trying to talk with you? What does that say to them? By always being mindful of those around you, you can set a great example of accountability and leadership.

Melissa Hulsey is president and CEO of Ashton. Reach her at (770) 419-1776 or