The Magic is in Accountability

I was walking to my car with an uneasy feeling in my gut. An hour and a half before, I entered the restaurant for a job interview for a human resources position. I was excited. I prepped my questions, had done my reading. From the initial telephone screen, I had a feeling that this was one of those establishments that functioned on the old school philosophy of restaurant management. Untouched and unaffected by the changes wrought by the #MeToo movement. I am very familiar with this mindset. It’s the one I started in 30 years ago. Could I make a difference here? What challenge was I facing?

That feeling in my gut was sadness, mixed with resignation. It was exactly how I had imagined it and I was unsure I could ever make a difference there. The management’s stand was clear. It’s us against them. My job would have been to manage that adversarial relationship.

I don’t blame them. Once upon a time, I thought that way. But I had been an employee also and I know its that mindset that makes the restaurant work environment toxic. It makes it impossible for employees to speak up and be heard, to ask for what they need, to feel emotionally safe. Today that doesn’t work and today that has to stop.

I’m thinking, what is missing in the relationship between management and employees that would transform that mindset. That special sauce: accountability. In my current position, I have had the privilege and honor to be able to practice this. Let me demonstrate what I mean.

In one area of our kitchen, we had one worker who had a reputation for unreliability before I got there. Always late for his shift, calling out 15 minutes before his shift began, disappearing for long periods of time during his shift. No one could count on him. Our management wasn’t holding him to account, which of course had serious repercussions. I think he had been written up a couple of times but no follow through. Morale among the team was low, because they were doing his work and wondering why they had to be on time. It lead to an environment that was resentful, angry and defensive.

I came into this environment, tasked with creating structures and boundaries. Since he had been doing this for so long, he had no idea that this could get him fired, so we had a conversation to set the boundary. I set up clear guidelines and explained what the consequences were. I was clear that these were standards we were holding him accountable for, that he was responsible for determining how his employment was going to go. It wasn’t about him, it was about the execution of the accountability.

Let’s take the tardiness problem. This young man was perpetually late on Sundays. We discovered that his transportation was a huge issue on Sundays which made him late. He couldn’t be accountable for being on time on Sunday. We changed the start time. And he showed up on Sunday on time. He just had to let us know what worked for his accountability.

When others in your organization are not performing, they are not fulfilling on their accountability. Is it the role? If you approach every worker as if they are doing the best they can, and hold them accountable for their job, everything is clear cut. Create the accountability clearly with them from the beginning and make it kind of contract. It is a powerful tool to help them improve performance and set goals for themselves.

People who are new in the workforce often are unaware of what it means to be accountable. The magic is in learning how to be accountable, declaring it and having others hold you to it.