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Adding Employee Accountability- Part II

July 6, 2008
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“Clearly defined expectations are the basis for all successful business relationships.”

  As an entrepreneur, you are held accountable by many individuals, and rightfully so. Your customers expect and deserve the very best quality and service; your employees expect and deserve a living wage and job security; your banker and suppliers expect to be paid on time, and your family expects your focused time and loving devotion. And let us not forget the pound of flesh the IRS expects from you every quarter!

In other words, your accountability is based on the expectations others have for you. Accountability “holds your feet to the fire” and in the process – hopefully – makes you a better business manager. The result of this expectation/accountability capitalistic process? You become a more focused and efficient business owner/manager and, therefore, you get busy, busy, busy and eventually hire your first employee who normally is a complete failure (at least in your eyes) because he or she is accountable to no one (note: this article is intended for the owner who is just now hiring their first employees, but the principle of Employee Accountability will apply to any business.)

Why are there so many problems with employees in this industry? As a friend of mine says, “The fish rots from the head down.” That’s right, typically a small-business owner is his or her own worst enemy because they set no expectations for their new employees. Without this accountability most employees will work … sort of. But with each worker marching to his or her own drum, the newly expanded business falls into a very common business trap: no consistency!

Numerous studies have shown that customers crave consistency (even if it is, at best, mediocre) above a different experience each time the service is performed. (Think about the millions of consistent hamburgers McDonald’s serves each day!)  Now, as a solo owner-operator you have no doubt been not just average or mediocre, but instead a consistently great carpet cleaner! After all, accountability forced you to focus on superb carpet cleaning and on developing a professional relationship with your client. In other words, both your technical expertise and your instinctive customer rapport allowed you to exceed the expectations of the homeowner, and therefore, your business prospered! But now everyone, including your aching back, tells you it is time to expand and hire your first employee.

So you hire a sharp young man or woman and tell them, “This is your truck. I want you to act as if this job is your very own little enterprise and I will reward you accordingly.”  Now, I would never suggest diminishing the entrepreneurial zeal or initiative of an employee. But as the months or years go by, your employee can easily forget who is signing his or her paycheck and become a loose cannon, doing whatever they want. This free-spirit employee obviously is throwing your hard-won consistency to the wind. Even worse, without accountability, your on-site (and unsupervised) employee can easily slide into the tempting and oh-so-very-common industry cancer of “side work,” performing work for cash that goes into their pocket instead of your bank account. So let’s talk consistency.

Start with clear and open communication. An employee is at their most malleable on the very first day. So go over your company manual with them paragraph by paragraph, focusing on exactly what your expectations are for them and what the consequences are if those expectations are not met (and of course, to be fair you should also share the brilliant future they can have if their performance excels).  Have your new employee sign a statement acknowledging they have reviewed the manual with you and have received a copy. Don’t have an employee manual? At the very least prepare a “check list” of your expectations and review this list with any new hire.  

Use “Fast Track” training. Too often, a new employee just “drags hoses” for months or even years after being hired. Instead, challenge this young individual right from the get-go with a list of logical daily on-the-job training topics to learn. Then give your new worker a simple test to fill out when you finish work each day. If you have structured your lists logically, your new employee will be able to do simple jobs on their own after two to three weeks of this structured teaching (when your new employee successfully “graduates” from this fast-track orientation, give him or her a $100 bonus). Even better, you will have added consistency to their future work routine, since they will have learned “how and why” of your business. And best of all, with this structured training outline, your first employee will be the trainer for your next hire as your business grows.

Add accountability with Mystery Shoppers. A major part of your fast-track training outline should be focused on how to deliver a great customer experience as the carpet cleaning is performed. In other words, your new technician should understand they are an actor on a stage, and the curtain goes up anew every time the door opens. Accountability for an actor means examining the anxiously awaited reviews of their performance. So at hiring explain that your company arranges periodic Secret Shopper exams, where a pre-selected customer fills out an in-depth questionnaire reviewing their carpet-cleaning experience.

As you develop your Secret Shopper checklist focus on the essential Moments of Truth that you want consistently delivered at each and every home. Make sure that your Secret Shopper understands the importance of checking off each point as it is delivered. Then don’t leave your employees guessing on what your expectations are for them. Share your Secret Shopper checklist with your people. Explain that if they fulfill the Moments of Truth detailed on this checklist and do so with a cheerful, positive attitude their customers will be delighted and you will be too!

Your technicians should know that just as theater reviewers do not announce their presence, so too your Secret Shopper will be anonymous. If the review of the job is positive, it should be cause for a public celebration, giving well-deserved recognition and praise to the employee(s) responsible. Remember, your goal with the Secret Shopper program is, to echo the words of Zig Ziglar, to “Catch somebody doing something right.”  And of course, this very public celebration also serves as a reminder to your other employees that their appointment with an anonymous Secret Shopper may occur on any job. Accountability!

Hold their feet to the fire on every job. Obviously every carpet-cleaning job can’t be a Secret Shopper. (In fact, to compensate our Secret Shoppers for their extra efforts we did their actual cleaning free of charge. Our goal was to have every employee graded at least twice a year.) However, be sure to call each and every residential customer the next day after their cleaning to make sure they were delighted. This phone call need not be an extensive interview. Once you have verified that the homeowner is delighted, thank them for their business, explain that you will pass their praise along to their technician and remind them that you appreciate any and all referrals. But now “double dip” off this call by once again giving your employee(s) specific praise on making this homeowner a Cheerleader (your company staff meeting is a great time for this public recognition). On the other hand, if the homeowner even hints at a negative experience, tactfully probe and do whatever it takes to regain the customer’s trust. Then it’s time for a private meeting with (you guessed it!) some accountability for the offending employee.

Business is tough nowadays. More and more is expected from you as the business owner and manager. And that is as it should be. But if you expect your quality people to consistently deliver quality and great customer service, your life will be so much easier. However, your employees will never meet your expectations unless you hold them accountable!

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