Adding Employee Accountability - Part I

June 6, 2008
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“We all do better when our feet are held to the fire.”
- Anonymous

Accountability is the glue that holds society together. I work hard because my banker will be impatiently waiting for my monthly mortgage payment and if I don’t deliver – accountability! And one of the reasons I don’t flirt with other women is because my wife Sioux will most definitely hold me accountable!

I don’t run red lights because a traffic cop just might hold me accountable for breaking the law. Without accountability, there only exists chaos and anarchy, and neither condition is conducive to a productive life or a profitable business!

Think back to the early days of your business. Accountability brought forth a frantic drive in you to succeed at all costs (desperation created by personal accountability was a tremendous motivator for me!). And so you worked like a dog and voila! Success…sort of. The problem? All your frenzied hard work brought forth too much business! So then you faced the difficult choice between staying “chained to the scrub wand” as an owner-operator or dealing with the inevitable complications of adding employees.

Growing your company with employees can bring profits, personal freedom, satisfaction and eventually a business sale that will fund your wealthy retirement. But for a carpet cleaner, more often than not, adding employees creates headaches, stress, constant financial problems and the agony of “owning a job” that has become your very own personal “hell on earth.” Sadly, the following scenario plays out far too frequently in our industry: A young, hard working and very naïve owner-operator hires employees, briefly trains them and trustingly sends them out on the truck – assuming they will be just like him. Nothing could be further from the truth!

The problem is, neophyte business owners fall into the “Accountability Trap” – they assume their new hire will be just like them, caring deeply about job quality, customer service, financial profitability and the future of the company. However, the defining difference between you as a business owner and your workers is that your employees don’t care because they are not accountable! Think about it: you are “on the hook” for everything. Salaries, utilities, fuel, marketing expenses, office rent, your kid’s future college expenses and your upcoming supply bill from your distributor! Your employee is accountable for…nothing!

Success with employees depends on creating “mini-entrepreneurs” within your organization, with each worker being held accountable for his or her earnings, production, customer service and career advancement, along with being accountable for his or her consistency and personal honesty.

Earnings. All of us need (want?) a bigger paycheck. My guess is your employees are the same, therefore their constant requests for more money! And yes, after a brief struggle you may grudgingly confer a raise on a worker. After all, business is good. So you think (hope?) you can afford the extra payroll expense. But what happens if, in these perilous economic times, your profits nosedive? Can you go back to your employee and say, “Uhhhh, George, I can’t afford to continue with that raise I gave you last month.” Not likely! In an employee’s mind, raises are cast in stone, even while they continue on, blithely ignorant of your company’s profitability, general economic conditions or their personal business productivity!

Therefore, once you are paying your people a “living wage” why not structure any additional potential employee income based on employee zeal and initiative? Properly set up, your employee will “earn his own raise” and at the same time make more money for you too! For example, if your technician up-sells a daily average of just 800 square feet of Scotchgard at $.20 per foot, that is $160 gross, and with less than $40 in out-of-pocket application cost. So if you pay him 30 percent of all work he up-sells, your tech earns an extra $48 (that’s a “raise” of $6 per hour or $240 per week!) but you will clear more than $70, or $17,000 per year! Everyone wins when you make employees accountable by having them “earn their own raises” – including you!

Production. I think the old saying “time is money” was invented by a small-business owner. You as an entrepreneur are constantly examining your personal productivity. However, an employee that works off-site, away from the gaze of the owner, can easily drift into a comfortable pace that drags down your profits. Fight this challenge by setting production goals and tracking them, including giving each employee his or her personal weekly production report comparing their daily performance to the company as a whole. (Yep, that’s right – accountability!) Even better, make it a horse race by using these production reports for a monthly contest with a nice bonus for the winner!

Customer Service. Sadly, most carpet cleaning companies allow production to become king at the expense of customer service. Overcome this problem by developing employee scripts that guide your technicians’ actions in the customer’s home, train your techs in their use and, finally (you guessed it!), making your people accountable. Hold your technicians’ feet to the fire by implementing next-day quality check calls to each and every client and sharing the results with each employee. Hopefully, customer replies will be great, which means you can deliver some public commendations at your next staff meeting and, as always, reward your quality employees.

Advancement. It is really very simple. Nothing is more important to your business success than finding superb individuals to share your dream. But quality people want to feel as if they are advancing in their career. Somehow, just pushing a scrub wand for the next 40 years is not a compelling vision for most young people looking for a long-term job. You are competing with every other business out there for the very best employees. (Remember, most job applicants are unemployed for a very good reason!) So you must promise (and deliver) the prospect of rapid growth, which will attract and keep great employees.

However, remember to set ambitious performance benchmarks for your employees to meet before they can be considered for a promotion. (Hint: You don’t have to promote employees to make them happy. Make points with your people by sending them to professional seminars that will advance their careers, but only if they meet your performance standards.)

The title of this article is “Adding Employee Accountability,” but perhaps a more accurate phrase would be “sharing the accountability.” The buck will always stop with you as the business owner. This is how it should be. However, quality employees accept shared accountability as a compliment and will respond beautifully, making more money for themselves and creating a strong, vibrant and growing business with less stress for you!

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