The Power Of Accountability

Goal setting and accountability go hand-in-hand in achieving practice growth.

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Somewhere between sloth and gluttony lies unaccountability in the deadly sins of management— not only for you, but for your employees as well. Think about how many great meetings you’ve had—in groups and one-on-one—where wonderful ideas were bandied about and plans were meticulously laid out. But what happened next? Did those ideas actually get executed? Or are you still just talking about them?

It’s easy to say to your team, “We need to attract new patients and cut costs.” But for the average employee, that’s very difficult to fully grasp. You will obtain far more by providing your staff members with specific goals, teaching them how to achieve those goals and then holding them accountable for achieving set goals.

Perhaps one month you set a target of a 4% increase in retail product sales. Engage them in quick role-play that emphasizes suggestive selling. Show them how to pair one product with another. Then, invite your manufacturers reps to come in and highlight the features and benefits of their products to your employees.

Specific, attainable goals set expectations and remind employees that you are monitoring their performance. If you have provided a target that is realistic, they can put together personal game plans to get the job done. And this works for not only increasing sales, but keeping an eye on costs (i.e., reduce office supply costs by 5% during the fourth quarter), building a patient marketing database (i.e., collect 25 new emails per month), and so forth.
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ESTABLISH DEADLINES

Part of setting specific goals is providing a time frame for completion. You can use a period of time—such as a month, a week, a day or a quarter—or you can utilize an end date (i.e., by June 30th). Deadlines foster a sense of urgency that may be missing from your team. If you’re constantly emphasizing the need to attract new patients, but you never say how many or by when, your words are simply drifting lazily to the floor with no real definite need for timeliness or effort from your employees. Make sure you have attached a time frame or deadline to each goal you establish. Mention it in meetings and post it on all internal communications. Be realistic with your deadlines. Targets and times that are impossible to reach will adversely affect morale.

COACH, DEVELOP & GROW

Holding employees accountable and assigning new responsibilities is not a matter of dumping additional work on the team or taking the opportunity to say “Ah ha! Gotcha!” when they don’t complete tasks. Rather, it is an important management function that involves teaching employees how to be better at what they do. It’s sharing best practices between one associate and another. It’s imparting your years of experience with the new hire.

One way to think of it is to approach each employee from the standpoint of his resume. You might even say something along the lines of, “My job as your manager is to make sure your resume looks great.” That’s not to say that you want the employee to leave. It means that part of your role as an owner or manager is helping staff members attain new knowledge, skills and abilities. If an employee feels challenged in a good way by working for you, he’ll likely continue to stay despite an ever-improving resume.

Accountability should be viewed as more than just a checklist of “he did this” or “he didn’t do that.” It encompasses all the efforts that take your practice to the next level so that you shine above the competition.

ASSIGN TASKS TO INDIVIDUALS

As tempting as it is to tell your staff that they are all responsible for how the practice looks and functions, rarely do they all take that responsibility to the fullest extent. To make sure people have the right responsibilities and are held accountable for those responsibilities, give one specific task to one particular employee. For example, don’t permit all your employees to keep tabs on your social media. Assign this task to one team member. Concerning in-office tasks, make one employee responsible for the cleanliness of the restrooms, another for answering the phones, etc.

By taking this approach, the entire team knows who is responsible for what, and it creates a bit of peer pressure to not let the other teammates down. The workload needs to be fair and equally distributed, but you can rotate duties between employees—after all, no one wants to get stuck with restroom duty forever! The other advantage of assigning responsibility to just one person for each task is that your job of maintaining accountability just became much simpler. It’s no longer the entire staff that is to blame when something doesn’t get done—or done well—it is a particular individual. That situation can be managed far more effectively.

MONITOR PROGRESS

One thing that is helpful for both you and your employees is to touch base prior to the deadlines you have set. This gives you an opportunity to ask questions like “How is the project going?” or “Need any help?” or “Run into any roadblocks?” Your interaction with employees shows that the task at hand is still important to you, and you want to see it through to fruition. This also keeps the assigned responsibility fresh on the employee’s mind. If you have a target of a 4% increase in retail sales by the end of the quarter, checking in periodically provides a checkpoint to see how the employee is actually doing. Waiting until the end of the quarter to find out that little or no effort has been made is a waste of nearly three months.

BE COMFORTABLE WITH CONFLICT

Some managers dread any kind of negative conversation with their employees. Admonishing an associate for not doing his job is like juggling hornet’s nests for some managers. However, if you don’t say something to an employee who is not fulfilling his responsibility, then you are affirming that the behavior is acceptable. This, in turn, gets picked up on by the others in the practice. Avoid conflict altogether and you have a managerial situation that is virtually impossible to turn around. Therefore, you have to accept that as an owner or manager you will have difficult conversations with your team. Try to approach this task from the standpoint of a coach who is trying to get the best and most out of his players. Yes, you sometimes will have to say “This is unacceptable,” but you can add “You can do better than this” and “What is your game plan to turn it around?”

And this brings us to the final point about holding staff members accountable. If you have set attainable and specific goals, provided deadlines and monitored progress, then when an employee fails to deliver what was expected, you will need to take appropriate disciplinary steps. Initially, this is just a verbal warning that describes what the expectation was and how the employee missed the mark. If your practice does not have a progressive disciplinary policy (such as verbal warning, first written warning, second written warning and then termination), establish one right away. This series of disciplinary steps is precisely how you ultimately hold employees accountable.

Additionally, you must be consistent with all the employees. They will be watching to see if you are indeed consistent with the application of any disciplinary measures.

The bottom line is that if you really want to hold employees accountable for their actions, you will need to take actions yourself to keep them on task. Though discipline is important, it is equally crucial that you provide positive reinforcement as well. For those who do a great job or consistently perform in a way that helps the practice grow, acknowledge their accomplishments. Often, a “thank you” will suffice, but contributing to success should also result in some kind of remuneration. These rewards are a courteous way of recognizing all the hard work that has been done by your staff, with a little prodding from you.

Steven Austin Stovall, PhD, is professor of management at Wilmington College in Wilmington, OH. He can be reached at steven_stovall@wilmington.edu.

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