The vast majority of business owners are quick to tell us that they want to “hold their employees accountable.”  “No one is accountable here.  They aren’t held accountable.  Yada yada yada”  However when you ask them what it means to hold them accountable invariably their responses tend towards wanting to punish them.  Accountability is a huge issue among employees—the reason being the owner himself doesn’t understand what it means.

The root of the word accountability is account—account as in your accounting and as in numbers.  Accountability therefore requires numbers—a measurement.  This measurement is generally omitted from the employee’s job description—if they have one at all.  So let’s begin with the job description.  A job description must convey to the employee the results that the employee must produce.  When a job description consists of only a list of tasks, you might have a training manual but you do not have an effective job description.  When an employee is given only a list of tasks you will always lose the argument—“Why isn’t this done?” “Because I did this this and this instead.” “But that’s not what I wanted you to do.” “But how was I supposed to know—i have all this other stuff to do.”  You lose.  Establish accountability in the job description by defining the result that was supposed to be produced rather than just things you want them to do.  Each job description must include the tasks you want performed AND the results that are supposed to be produced from each task.  Preferably they are also prioritized—what may be common sense to you may not be common sense to them—in the job description you codify common sense.

When the result is defined it must be measureable and it must be understood.  A result that is missing either lacks the agreement between the parties as to what result is expected and whether or not it has been produced.  So even if your employee (or yourself) are afraid of “accounting” the “accounting” has to be put back into “accountability.’

The second issue that must be overcome is the natural tendency towards NIMBY—not in my back yard.  Accountability sounds good for others but what about the owner?  You cannot hold people accountable until you hold yourself accountable.  In a broad sense the owner is accountable for owner is accountable for three things—the gross profit percentage; the overhead percentage and driving sales above break even and to the desired level.  If you aren’t doing your job it is hard to expect that of others.  You can delegate responsibilities within those categories but you cannot delegate the accountability for the result.  The buck stops here.

The third issue that must be addressed in developing accountability is the issue of incentives.  Accountability and incentives are a ying and yang.  You cannot have one without the other.  The days of management by intimidation are over.  Defining results for accountability purposes also creates results upon which to create incentives.  The result identified in your job description is the amount of results that you are already paying for—you have an “agreement” (though the job description) with your employees that they will deliver to you x results and in exchange you will deliver to them y compensation.  If they deliver less than x results you hold them accountable; if they deliver more than x results you have a reward in the form of incentives (and therefore encouragement to produce beyond their prescribed result).

So when you as an owner are frustrated that employees are not being held accountable; blame yourself for not doing the groundwork that creates a system of incentives and accountability that would do so.