6 Steps for Establishing Employee Accountability & Empowerment

Do you find yourself answering calls from your team of supervisors all day, addressing stupid questions and solving small problems? They continually ask you to make simple decisions for them. It seems like they won’t do much of anything without first checking with you. Why? Are they afraid to make a mistake?

Supervisors keep calling you because you like helping to solve their problems. Unfortunately, you have trained them to not make decisions without your input. The more problems you solve for others, the more you are asked to solve their problems. And the cycle repeats itself.

Because you can make these decisions quickly, they call you rather than do a little research and solve their own problems. And out of habit, you continually answer these calls, solve other people’s problems and fix their issues. It’s no wonder you can’t find any accountable help — you won’t let them be accountable or responsible for anything. You tell them they’re empowered to get things done, but to check with you before making any decisions.

In a recent poll of field employees, 66% were asked to make decisions. But only 14% of them feel empowered and trusted to make the decision. They’re afraid their boss will yell at them if they make mistakes or the wrong choices. So, rather than risk it, employees don’t take on more than they are asked to.

The following are six steps to help your teams become more accountable and responsible, clearly understand expectations and feel empowered to get things done without your help or input.

1. Establish a clear understanding of expectations.

The first and most important step is to clearly explain what you expect of your employees. When asked, over 66% of employees didn’t know specifically what they’d been asked to do, what the deadline was or what their boss wanted them to accomplish. Go ask your people the top three things you want them to accomplish both today and this week. Do you both agree on the answers?

2. Create scorecards and tracking systems.

In order to make people accountable and responsible, there must be simple milestones, deadlines and results to achieve and track.

Your team members need to know how they stand in order to meet goals and expectations. Without clear written goals, regular updated tracking systems and scorecards, people can’t be accountable for results.

To hold people accountable, supervisors must be given daily knowledge of their current progress versus the budget and end result. At the beginning of each project phase, get the team together to discuss the goals you want to track and achieve.

3. Ask them for solutions instead of solving their problems.

When people call you to solve their problems, rather than give them a quick answer, ask yourself the level of decision or problem they are inquiring about.

  • Level 1: No-brainer — Don’t ask, just do it. The person asking you for help with a decision is 100% authorized to solve this simple and unimportant problem. Tell them to stop calling you regarding these types of decisions. They should take care of it themselves without having to ask for help. When you are asked a “no-brainer” question, tell them to handle it on their own, without giving you a report on their decision or solution.
  • Level 2: Solution first — Decide, discuss and act. Never provide immediate solutions to midlevel problems without asking for a solution or alternatives first. The person asking you for help is attempting to delegate their responsibility to you to solve problems and be accountable. In other words, they want you to do their job for them. When you get these calls, listen and then ask: “What’s your solution?” or “What do you think is the best way to handle this issue?” Put solving these problems back onto them rather than providing the solution yourself. Transfer the accountability to them by encouraging, mentoring and coaching them to research alternative solutions, call other people or dig in a little deeper. Then, when they have come to a solution, you can tell them to go ahead with their decision.
  • Level 3: Major decision requires approval — Important, strategic, contractual decisions will require research, alternatives, options, discussion and approval before taking action. These problems can have major liability, impact, financial risk or are over the person’s level of authority.

4. Define levels of authority.

To build trust and avoid confusion and misunderstandings, employees must clearly understand their level of authority. Can they buy materials or tools?

How much can they spend without approval from their boss? Can they commit the company, hire or fire, or make contract agreements? What decisions are they authorized to make on their own?

I learned a long time ago that my employees often make better decisions than I do — they’re more careful with my money than I am. When given clear rules and parameters, your people will become great team leaders and empowered employees. Providing them with little or no authority leaves them doing work they cannot be held accountable or responsible for.

How much are your foremen allowed to spend without first having to check with you? Is it more than $10? $100? Increasing the spending limit to $1,000 allows them to make time-sensitive decisions on-site and helps grow into fully accountable team leaders. With this power, they can  handle most day-to-day decisions without the need to involve you.

5. Be a coach, not a controller.

People want to be coached, not controlled and told what to do all day. The best coach usually wins the most games. When your crew isn’t accountable or responsible, it’s a reflection of the coach’s total control and dictatorship.

The more you control, the less your people do for you. The more decisions you make for them, the less decisions they make. The more questions you answer for them every day, the less they have to think and learn. Is that what you want? Good coaches train their people regularly. Have team meetings to review progress. Ask their team leaders to think for themselves and call their own plays. Even great head football coaches don’t call their own plays. Your job is to explain what’s expected and then provide feedback on their progress. Use regular check-in times, follow up and stay in touch. But don’t do it all for them.

6. Celebrate and reward success.

When accountable and responsible employees achieve great results, they need to be thanked and rewarded. It’s your job as the leader to set up a fun, competitive and simple system to reward success. At your regular job or company meetings, pick out two people to recognize for a job well done. Start a weekly award for the field crew person who saves the most money, does something excellent, has the best attitude, makes the best decision or goes the extra mile for the customer. Keep it fun, challenging and interactive.

By implementing these simple steps, your people will grow and want to take on more responsibility.

Jerrie Parise

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