Accountability gets a bad rap. Yet, when done right (and consistently), it promotes employee productivity, engagement, and job satisfaction. As business owners, we appreciate (and hopefully practice) three critical components of employee accountability: 1) setting and communicating clear expectations, 2) setting and communicating the consequences of poor performance in advance, and 3) providing positive reinforcement and/or constructive feedback for staff to grow and improve.
But how does a small business owner—with no shareholders or board members to answer to—hold themselves accountable in these same ways?
As a solo owner, I admit that I’ve had my share of ups and downs. I’ve struggled to manage staff effectively; I’ve struggled to create structure out of chaos; and I’ve struggled to maintain a clear perspective. But I’ve learned a few things along the way with my own business and in working with others that might help you think about the ways in which we hold ourselves accountable.
#1 – “Manager-Staff” accountability: Strive to be a good manager
First, hire the right people. How? By developing and maintaining a rigorous and standardized process for hiring that includes a comprehensive job description on one hand and multiple interviews with candidates, reference checks, and background checks on the other. And to the best of your ability, selecting the “best fit” candidate for the job.
Second, set clear roles between you and your staff. Staff don’t need you to be their friend or their parent (they have those); they need you to be their manager—and a good one at that. Not to sound like an armchair therapist, but I’ve seen a few owners over the years who use their business as a means of satisfying personal, emotional needs. This can be overwhelming for your employees – they may unwillingly become your emotional support system, and I’ve seen this situation drive good employees to quit even when they loved their job and their boss. Just like you don’t want to become their personal confidant for all their personal problems, don’t ask them to be that person for you. Remember, your employees don’t have to like you, but they definitely have to respect you!
Third, “manage to results.” By helping employees understand what a successful outcome looks like, you offer them a clear path to achieving the company’s goals. And if you can give them flexibility in how they achieve that outcome, you’ll be amazed by their creativity and productivity in achieving the desired results.
#2 – “Time and Money” accountability: Establish and maintain discipline
If this sounds a lot like parenting advice, you aren’t too far off. This is self-evident, but I think it’s important to state that your business is an entity that has certain needs. And to grow and thrive, what your business needs most is for you to be a good business owner. Foundational to this is practicing good money management, and at its most basic level, this means keeping your personal and business finances separate. (I actually produced a small, online course on this topic; you can check it out here.) As business owners, we want nothing more than to avoid potential problems, and keeping good financial records is the best way to do just that.
Second, I’ve learned in my own business that the more structure I can create, the fewer decisions I need to make on a daily, hourly, or even minute-by-minute basis. Since decision-making can be a huge energy drain, I find I can conserve energy for more strategic work by being disciplined. One example is how I structure my calendar, my time, and my tasks. For instance, I block a portion of every Friday for networking meetings and allow people to schedule meetings with me only at that time, using a third-party calendaring software. I know this sounds simple, but you’d be surprised by how many decisions I don’t have to make (or emails that I don’t have to send) by adhering to this system.
#3 – “Achieving Goals” accountability: Find an accountability partner
External accountability is an incredibly useful construct, particularly for solo owners, who don’t have the benefit of a business partner to bounce ideas off of. And it’s often not enough to focus on customer/client satisfaction as the measure of how well you are holding yourself accountable. I utilize a couple of strategies here that I’ve found particularly valuable.
First, I have a business coach with whom I meet regularly. Conversations with my coach help me identify and eliminate obstacles (real or imagined) that I am putting in my own way. I also have an accountability partner with whom I connect once a month (or as needed). My accountability partner is a peer who I trust and who is familiar with my business context. They are different from those trusted colleagues and friends with whom I can regularly (and confidentially) vent. An accountability partner should be someone to whom you can bring your knotty problems, and they will help you think through strategies and solutions—and hold you accountable for implementing them.
Surely, accountability is a critical tool for small business owners, whether they are working to hold their staff accountable—or most importantly themselves. If you’d like help thinking through your more complex issues and challenges with me, schedule a free consultation.