Any small business can post its core values on the wall and remind employees about them daily. But if employees are never held accountable for these behaviors, they’ll just repeat transgressions over and over.
“Accountability must be woven into the fabric of your organization. It has to become a part of every aspect of your business,” says Brian Bedford, co-author of the new book, Culture Without Accountability—WTF? What’s The Fix?
Here are four critical actions, according to the book, that business owners must take to create a culture of accountability in 2014:
1. Hold yourself accountable. “You must hold yourself accountable to at least the same level of expectation you have for your employees,” says Miller. “A rule applies to everyone or it applies to no one. As a leader you must be keenly aware that everyone is watching you, and everything starts at the top.”
Bedford gives the example of Sir Alex Ferguson, the long-time coach of Manchester United soccer club, who held everyone, including himself, accountable to the credo “The club is more important than any individual.” No matter how skilled or important they were, if a player didn’t follow that rule, they were let go.
2. Spell out expectations to the letter. Without clear expectations, there’s no way to hold someone accountable. Make sure employees have a clear understanding of what is expected. That may mean going into detail that, on the surface, feels like overkill—but isn’t.
3. Know when to nourish your employees. Of his time at General Electric, Jack Welch once said, “My main job was developing talent. I was a gardener providing water and other nourishment to our 750 people. Of course, I had to pull out some weeds, too.”
Welch knew the importance of holding people accountable. He had a standard for his employees, and anyone who didn’t meet that standard would suffer the consequences. When mistakes are made, you can and should hold your people accountable. If you don’t, they (or your company) can’t improve.
Holding employees accountable means telling them the truth. To do so, you must talk with them about what they’re doing well and where they need to improve. This is where the accountability process breaks down most often.
4. Hone the art of instant feedback. Many people don’t like giving feedback. But you can’t hold people accountable without it. For feedback to be productive, it must be shared regularly and without delay.
“If this practice becomes part of the culture, your people will come to expect it and not feel that it’s anything unusual,” explains co-author Julie Miller. “Leaders should share impressions as soon as they see the behavior they would like to encourage or discourage. Make sure feedback is specific, focusing on the particular issue or behavior in question. If a leader will focus on what the person actually said or did—the facts and nothing but the facts—without labeling the employee or the action, the employee will be more likely to hear and heed the feedback.”
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