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Teaching the ABCs of Business
Guide: An Employee Accountability System
                 By John D. Collins
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When describing systems, automobile engines are often used as an example.  A system is made up of four components: input, process, output, and a feedback loop for control.  An automobile engine is made up of the same components, input (fuel, air and spark), process (combustion), and output (work).  The design of the engine defines what work will be done.  Fuel, air and fire are ignited in an engine creating an explosion which provides energy to move the automobile down the road.  Feedback for this type of system is provided by gauges and sensors.  The driver uses information from the gauges to control the automobile.  For instance, feedback is provided by a speedometer.  It may inform the driver that he is going slower than the minimum speed.  The driver realizes that he should speed up.  The driver presses on the accelerator, which causes more fuel to go to the engine, more combustion occurs, more energy is created and the automobile goes faster. 
 
In a business system, inputs for work are employees, raw materials, time, and tools or equipment.  The process is the work activities themselves, and the outputs are the products made or work accomplished. In organizations position descriptions and procedures define the work processes and supervisors provide the necessary feedback so that employees know when and how to modify their effort and behavior.  
 
The following describes an employee accountability system where work expectations are defined in writing. Feedback is provided by supervisors through coaching, performance evaluations, and as necessary, a discipline program to bring the employee’s performance back to the expected norm.  With feedback, employees are encouraged to modify their effort and behavior which in turn impacts the work being performed.
 
AN EMPLOYEE ACCOUNTABILITY SYSTEM AS A ROADMAP

The concept of accepting responsibility for our own actions, while not new, seems almost rare in today’s business environment. Businesses must realize that their success in critical areas such as: customer service, productivity, quality control, employee retention, compliance, reliability, and overall goal achievement is directly associated with accountable employees.

An employee accountability system is a road map for the success of your company.  It establishes a written and quantitative set of performance and work expectations.  Employees can use them to help them to achieve greater levels of success. Employees want to know the correct route 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 is lack of effort and little motivation.  Too much guesswork ends in inefficiency and poor results.

Productivity and accountability are about getting the right things done correctly, accurately, and on time. When businesses struggle to reach their goals and objectives or cannot identify why employee productivity and performance are not meeting expectations, it may be time to implement an employee accountability system.

To be held accountable, employees must have been given the responsibility or assignment for performing the job and the necessary authority, skills, tools, resources, time and training to carry it out.  The assignment must include expectations to define or clarify what has to be done, how it has to be done, and identify the results to be measured to ensure that what was supposed to happen did happen.
  
SET EXPECTATIONS

A system of employee accountability starts with written expectations, so that they are clearly understood.  The suggested written format for documenting and sharing work rules and benefits is an employee manual.  It is also an important reference for supervisors as it uniformly and objectively clarifies Company benefits, policies, procedures, and work rules.  In addition, it establishes ownership and management’s backing of the supervisor’s role to help enforce the expectations.  As all supervisors will use this tool, uniformity of explanation and consistency of interpretation will follow. 

The preferred written format for defining work expectations and individual performance measures is the position description.   Position descriptions identify work expectations established by ownership and management.  A supervisor’s description describes the supervisor’s role to all, explains what authorities and responsibilities rest with the position, and identifies that ownership supports the position.  A subordinate’s position description defines what an employee is supposed to do.  It should explain written work expectations and measures of performance to the employee as a game plan for success.  Position descriptions provide an outline for training, establish accountability, and eliminate guesswork. Work and work standards are defined and are no longer open for negotiation between supervisor and subordinate.  Put as much into writing as is needed to set clear expectations.  Employees need enough information about their job to perform their responsibilities and tasks without guessing what is expected of them.

PROVIDING EMPLOYEE FEEDBACK

Objective and timely feedback regarding performance or meeting expectations must be provided to the employee through job coaching and daily feedback by the supervisor, through regular performance evaluations, and by routine reports.   If needed, your disciplinary program can be used to help correct chronic performance or behavioral issues that haven’t been solved using these other methods.  Feedback lets employees know how they are doing. Feedback also identifies what has to be worked on to get back to expected levels of performance.  Whenever possible, feedback should be delivered in a constructive or neutral context so that the receiver gets the entire message and does not “tune out” when the conversation starts with negatives. 
 
EMPLOYEE TRAINING AND DEVELOPMENT PROGRAMS
 
Employee orientation and training programs help an employee get off to a good start.  These programs reinforce performance expectations, identify who is responsible for training and provide training opportunities.   Additional training or skills development should be provided whenever the need is identified.  The goal is not to find fault but to get and keep performance at an acceptable level and to prevent or reduce frustration for all.

REWARD ACCOUNTABILITY AND CONTRIBUTION

An incentive system should reinforce accountability and reward contribution to the profitability of the business.  It must positively reinforce behavior beneficial to the organization and profitability, yet discourage behavior that is not.  Regular compensation pays employees for expected effort. Incentives should reward employees for exceptional effort, especially as it relates to their impact on increasing profitability.  This tool adds “we” to the supervisor’s vocabulary in their work to ensure employee accountability. 

The majority of those who work for a living do so within a group setting, which means working with others. The ability to function as a team member is a critical component of success in most businesses. Failure to follow through on commitments and personal responsibilities can cause a particular team member to become a problem. An accountability system with incentives 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 and business to succeed and to be profitable.

During implementation of an incentive program, initial employee reaction to accountability may be mixed.  Some may roll up their sleeves, some may turn up their noses, and some may not participate at all.’ Employees want to know what’s in it for them.  Those who ‘roll up their sleeves’ and prove to be accountable and contribute to generating profits will be recognized and rewarded. Recognition and reward often have a ripple effect on other employees. An accountability system with incentives will create a culture of motivated employees.

CONCLUSION

A system of employee accountability starts with expectations stated in writing, so that they can be clearly understood.  Employers should not have to guess what an employee will do and an employee should not have to guess what is expected of them. The accountability system continues with feedback provided by the supervisor and supplemented by the business.  As necessary the supervisor may have to provide additional clarification of expectations or training to ensure that they are met. The supervisor uses observation to inspect, reports to detect, and personal development plans to correct. 

An incentive system reinforces accountability and rewards contribution to the profitability of the business.  Such a process positively reinforces behavior beneficial to the organization and its profitability and discourages behavior that is not again, compensation pays employees for expected effort. Incentives should reward employees for exceptional effort, especially as it relates to their impact on increasing profitability.

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 of their jobs, see improved job satisfaction, experience more success, and can participate in generating additional profits by saving expenses or obtaining more sales.  As employees begin to take more ownership of their jobs 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 increased profit.  When employers are committed to an accountability system, change happens not because management mandates it, but because individuals are energized and motivated to approach their jobs in a new and improved way.
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