Achieving employee accountability Featured

8:00pm EDT October 26, 2007

In the 1940s, a sign sat on President Truman’s desk in the White House that read “the buck stops here.” Unfortunately, over the last 60 years, this concept of personal accountability — especially in business — has lost its popularity.

Productivity and accountability are about getting things done — all the right things — accurately and on time. Employers invest heavily in their employees, from hiring costs to payrolls, but how many are getting all the results that they could? How many times do employers hear excuses, such as, “it’s not my fault,” “sales just wasn’t able to close the deal,” or “my partner dropped the ball”? Blaming and finger-pointing are all too easy when things go wrong and all too common in business today.

Smart Business spoke to Craig Pritts, sales executive at JRG Advisors, the management company for ChamberChoice, about the importance of creating an environment of accountability.

When might accountability be an issue that should be addressed?

When employers struggle to reach business objectives and cannot identify why employee performance and productivity are not succeeding as planned, it may be time to consider investing in transforming employees’ behaviors and attitudes through accountability training. The concept of accepting responsibility for our own actions, while not new, at times seems almost unique in today’s world. Companies come to realize that their success in areas such as customer service, employee retention, reliability and overall goal achievement is directly associated with accountable employees.

Is there a system for measuring employee accountability?

Many large U.S. companies are resorting to ranking systems to distinguish the employees who perform poorly — with the goal of eventually replacing them with more promising, motivated employees. These ranking systems also enable the companies to identify top performers and reward them. For example, General Electric identifies the top 20 percent, the middle 70 percent and the bottom 10 percent of its 100,000 managerial and professional employees, with the bottom ranked given a brief time to improve. GE Chairman Jack Welch says those workers would eventually be fired anyway — and delaying the inevitable until they are midcareer is ‘a form of cruelty.’

Some critics of this system see this ‘top to bottom’ ranking classification as unfair. Some employers are being met with lawsuits, including age and race discrimination and reverse discrimination lawsuits. So instead of applying a merit system for accountability and success in the work-place, many employers are seeking other ways to motivate workers to reach previously unmet levels of personal accountability and progress.

How does individual responsibility factor into a group setting?

Ninety percent of those who work for a living do so within a company setting, which means working with other people. The ability to function as a member of a team is a critical component of success in business today. As a team member, failure to follow through on commitments and personal responsibilities can cause that particular team member to become a weak link. Accountability training motivates employees and helps them understand that their personal accountability means success for the entire company, and each employee’s own personal accountability is required for the team to succeed.

Initial employee reactions to accountability training will be mixed, as ‘hard work

spotlights the character of people: Some turn up their sleeves, some turn up their noses, and some don’t turn up at all.’ Employees want to know what’s in it for them and those who ‘turn up their sleeves' and prove to be accountable will be recognized and rewarded. This behavior often has a ripple effect on other employees. Accountability training will create a culture of motivated employees.

Whom does accountability training benefit?

Both employers and employees benefit from an environment in which the work force embraces and understands individual accountability. Employers will see the increased productivity that comes with setting deadlines and being clear about expectations and responsibilities. Employees will take ownership, see improved job satisfaction and experience more success.

What should employers know about accountability training?

Imagine a good accountability program as a road map to success for your company. Establishing a new, quantitative set of expectations and behaviors for employees can help them to achieve greater levels of success. Employees want to know what road to travel, the tasks they need to accomplish and the milestones along the way. When expectations change or are unclear, it’s like running a race without a finish line. The result will be burnout, lack of motivation and purposeless effort.

Developing these new thought paradigms and behaviors might be very difficult and not initially welcome. But once employees begin to take more ownership of tasks and a solid action plan is clear, personal accountability will emerge, lowering stress, increasing overall productivity, influencing job satisfaction and ultimately propelling the organization to its goals and beyond.

When employers are committed to accountability training, change happens not because management mandates it, but because individuals are energized and motivated to approach their jobs differently.

Craig Pritts is a sales executive with JRG Advisors, the management company for ChamberChoice. Reach him at (412) 456-7253 or craig.pritts@jrgadvisors.net.