Achieving Business Excellence with John Spence

The Foundation of Employee Accountability

For the past several months my email in-box has been full of requests from clients to put together a special program on “Accountability.” In just that past two weeks I have zigzagged across the country delivering custom sessions to State Farm, Verizon, Harman, and Abbott. It is obvious that with the current business climate, companies are trying to do more work, with less people… greatly increasing the pressure on every employee to deliver what is expected of them – on time and done superbly.

Although there are a number of factors that contribute to creating a culture of accountability, I would like to take a few minutes and share with you what I believe is one of the most critical: Specific and Measurable Performance Expectations. Why are quantifiable goals and measurable performance expectations so vital?  Because they give people a clear direction and help take ego out of the equation, both of which reduces stress, confusion and conflict.

When people are given ambiguous goals such as; increase sales, reduce inventory, shorten cycle times, reduce defects… or the famous… “you need to take it to the next level” — with no specific, measurable and agreed upon standards of just how they are supposed to do that, it is a recipe for pain.  They put in lots of effort, work overtime, run like crazy, but because there is no clear finish-line there is absolutely no way for them to know how to win the race! In order to hold an employee accountable you need to fully communicate exactly what you expect of them, how you will measure success or failure, and then make sure they have the information, skills, tools and authority to get the job done. 

My favorite example for this idea is Charlie Totter’s, one of the top 10 restaurants in the world. It is said that at Charlie Trotter’s the chefs do not give instructions like chefs, but like diamond cutters. They don’t just say, “Give me some carrots.” They request carrots that are whole, rough chopped, sliced, finely sliced, large diced, small diced, finely diced… and their assistants know to the millimeter exactly what each type of cut is supposed to look like. No guessing, no hoping, no confusion — exact, precise, specific.

The other very important reason for giving measurable goals is that it takes opinion and emotion out of the equation when dealing with performance issues.  If you say to an employee “I just don’t feel like you are giving it your all,” you are begging for an argument as to why they feel they are working extra-hard and deserve a raise! But if you have measurable goals you can say, “We agreed that you would increase your sales by 20% this month and I see on your report that you are only at 11% growth, what are your plans to make sure we get that other 9%?” Now you can have a meaningful discussion about numbers and facts, not assumptions or feelings. Now it isn’t you versus the employee, it is the two of you together trying to fix the numbers.

So here is the point. Before you can hold any employee accountable, you must first make sure that you have taken the time and effort to create clear, specific, measurable goals and given them all of the tools, time, support and training necessary to succeed. If you are completely comfortable that you have done this, and they are still not performing up to standard, you now have the ability to have a frank and focused discussion revolving around facts and data – not opinion or emotion. Doing this for every employee is the foundation of creating a highly accountable culture in your organization.