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Accountability Starts with Listening to Your Employees…Especially the Ones Closest to the Action!

Every small business goes through it.  Over time, you realize that the smooth processes or procedures that had existed for years are no longer bringing the same results. In fact, they’re beginning to impact the bottom line. Suddenly, quality has plummeted, customer service calls have escalated, and neither you nor any of your managers seem to know why.  
Has this ever happened to you?
If you’re like many small business managers, I bet the first thing you did was get your key managers into your office or conference room and tell them that this is not acceptable, and they have to do better. Or maybe, like some other business owners, you ask them to come back with a plan for how to fix the quality/customer service problem.  And maybe a tiny minority of you will ask the team to figure out why the problem exists because you can’t fix a problem until you know why it exists.
But even then, how would you figure that one out? Why not go to the source?  
Who has the responsibility to get the product out the door?  Not the manager nor managers responsible for that.  Nope!  How about the folks who do the work?  Nobody’s closer. And rarely do we ask their opinion. That’s where I’d start. 
  • “Nobody Ever Listens to My Opinion.”
    If you have a manufacturing company, go out on the shop floor to the area where fabrication and assembly are getting done.  Tell them what’s happening.  Ask some questions. Trust me. Somebody will step up. And invariably, their answer will start out with “nobody ever listens to my opinion, but…” Then they will tell you about problems with a supplier’s material or sub-par sub-assemblies that purchasing or finance had brought in to save some money. And if you run a technology company, the same thing could be happening with newly outsourced program modules that have all kinds of bugs in them. Or if you have a services business, maybe it’s the new sub-contractor who was supposed to be working a minor part of the project that now has become major because it is, suddenly, woefully behind.
  • It’s All About Listening, Trust, and Authority.  Then Accountability Follows.
    Whatever the problem, it’s all about listening.  It takes a company to deliver a high-quality product, not just a couple of people. And you have to listen to all levels of input to continually deliver that quality.   Once you listen, you develop mutual trust.  Do you think with the examples noted above that the Owner or CEO would continue to allow the results they were getting?  No. To avoid those kinds of problems, they would create a periodic review process that hears input from all levels and then provides the team the authority to carry out whatever was necessary to continue to deliver on the quality proposition to customers. And, at a macro level, that’s how accountability begins.
  • Accountability Means Giving Them More Control Over Their Job.
    On an individual level, that means giving them more control over their job by better defining the responsibilities associated with it. Then giving them the authority and the autonomy to carry them out. They feel more in control and more apt to point out early in the process when there are new problems that crop up, saving time and money. Plus, they feel like they are making a direct contribution to the company’s bottom line.
  • Accountability Improves Employee Growth and Their Sense of Value.
    Their pride in their contribution creates stability for the business and helps them want to grow personally and professionally. For small companies, it’s hard to develop anything more than on-the-job training, but that doesn’t mean that’s the only training that’s available to them. Every industry has training programs through various trade groups that you should encourage employees to attend and reimburse them for any costs.  As an example, I’ve had programs in various companies I’ve run where we encouraged employees to further their education (obviously, in their particular profession). If they got an “A,” we would pay for the entire cost of the course; a “B,” half the cost. The long and the short of it is that they are growing and increasing their own sense of value to themselves and the business.
Problems are always going to crop up.  But if you can keep employees feeling like they are not only instrumental but essential to solving the problem and, in turn, the business’ continued success, you will have a more profitable, growing company with a team that is constantly wanting to make it and themselves better.
“The Entrepreneur’s Yoda” knows these things.  He’s been there.  May success be with you!



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