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Holding family members accountable

Don Tyler for Progressive Cattle Published on 24 December 2019

Family businesses are the most difficult environment to establish and reinforce accountability.

We love our family members; we want what is best for them; we want to give them every opportunity to meet our expectations – but it’s difficult for Mom and Dad to be the sheriff. Developing a structure of responsibility where accountability is incorporated into the system is the most equitable, and least emotional, solution.

The benefits

When we create a structure with accountability as its foundation, we establish a top-level workforce, an atmosphere of professionalism, clear expectations and a proactive business culture. An added benefit to this structure is: No one person is responsible for holding other people accountable. The structure exposes those who are and are not being personally accountable, and peer pressure forces those who accept responsibility to act appropriately on their own without having to be reprimanded.

The basics

To create accountability, we need to have clear expectations, policies, financial goals and production targets which are written and accessible to everyone. Without these, our people are trying to hit a moving target and have a hard time clearly understanding what is expected of them.

Some of the documents that provide a structure for accountability include job descriptions, a standard job application form, employee handbook, performance review form, an organizational chart and standard operating procedures. Even small operations with only family members as employees should have these documents. Included in our basic accountability strategy is a list of agreed-upon consequences that will be enacted if someone repeatedly fails to be accountable.

The process

To create an atmosphere of self-regulating accountability, you start by developing each of the documents listed previously. These provide your written foundation that establishes equitable standards so people understand what they are personally accountable to do.

If you do not have some or any of these documents, start with job descriptions. They outline what each person is required to do. With those job descriptions in hand, develop an organizational chart to help everyone see where their position is in the chain of command. Next, create an employee handbook that outlines expectations for all employees, regardless of their role in the business.

From there, you can develop the operating procedures, a job application form and performance reviews. Operating procedures seem to take the longest to complete because we have so many different procedures throughout the different areas of our business. The simplest strategy is to start with a list of each person’s regular activities, then pull any existing procedures from operators’ manuals, veterinary protocols and “how to” guides from vendors and product manufacturers. Assemble them as-is in a three-ring binder and build upon them as you develop more detailed information on each procedure.

Get everyone’s input as you develop each of these documents. For instance, an effective and efficient method for developing job descriptions is to ask each person to make a list of the jobs they do throughout a normal week. Then review their list, make adjustments, and create each individual job description using a consistent format.

Establishing accountability

With these steps completed, you are ready to implement your accountability system. The next level of the process is establishing “where the buck stops.” Each individual is personally accountable for their specific area of the operation. Accountability for achieving the company’s daily objectives, production targets and profit goals are shared throughout the organization. Be cautious about holding people fully accountable without giving them the appropriate level of authority to meet those expectations. Employees grow frustrated if they are held accountable for results in an area without the authority to make necessary decisions.

Communicate very clearly with the entire team how their daily tasks and activities relate directly to each of their areas of accountability and the overall goals of the business.

Finally, if there are no stated consequences for a person’s failure to be accountable for their actions, the system has no backbone. The best way to establish consequences is to ask the team for their input on what consequences are appropriate for different situations. The ultimate consequence must be that a team member, even a family member, can be terminated.

Reinforcing accountability

Once your accountability system is firmly in place and clearly understood by the entire team, it needs regular reinforcement. Some strategies:

1. Adhere to your policies and procedures consistently. Inconsistency causes people to lose respect for the system – and your leadership. Treat family members and non-family employees the same for similar situations, behaviors and duties.

2. When an activity or behavior is found to be inconsistent with policies and procedures, act quickly. The longer your action is delayed, the more the individual will continue to stretch the rules and perform poorly in other areas. Their co-workers will grow resentful. In many instances, the person simply needs to be reminded or redirected to get back on track.

3. Provide regular training and coaching on key areas. Operations often experience procedural drift, meaning that over time some individuals become lax, inefficient or otherwise ineffective. Be proactive in monitoring each area of the operation and each person’s responsibilities.

4. Encourage co-workers to hold each other accountable. Give them permission to speak openly about any concerns that procedures are not being followed. Correct the attitudes of those who choose to not accept this input from their peers.

5. Remind the team about the benefits of accountability and how it is essential to creating the very best culture possible.

6. Use your documentation to reinforce any coaching you provide and any consequences that must be implemented.

This may seem like a daunting task. Like most worthwhile endeavors, begin by breaking the process down into small, progressive activities with a goal of having your accountability system in place by the end of this year. A year from now, you can enjoy your joint success and reap the benefits.  end mark

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Don Tyler is owner of Tyler & Associates Management Coaching. For more information about this topic or as a trainer/speaker, he can be reached at (765) 490-0353 or through his website (Tyler & Associates).

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