Tuesday, April 21, 2015

On Accountability

Good people do not need laws to tell them to act responsibly, while bad people will find a way around the laws.  - Plato

Heavy on my mind today is the topic of worker accountability - and how some workers will run toward, some workers will run away, and some workers will just sit there and not sure what to make of it all.

It began when I responded today to an article on a domestic agency's blog about how a domestic worker could put their best foot forward, a few tidbits of suggestions sprinkled throughout the writing, whereby I responded with my own favorite suggested book, "How To Be The Employee Your Company Can't Live Without," a title almost as long as the contents of most books, yet truly the most valuable book I've read which places the onus of success within the workplace to that of beginning with individual initiative and accountability - meaning, in a nutshell, you need to be a good egg without your manager first having to tell you that's what you need to be.
I think Plato really nailed it. Just think back to those domestic workers you've served alongside over the years. Did the good ones really need an employee manual, written by the family office attorney and a step-by-step list of standards to follow, or did they just seem to naturally zero in from day-1 on how the principals, the Estate Manager, and each of their co-workers needed them to perform - and did so accordingly, and with a great attitude, a smile on their face, and with them always finishing up each task throughout the day with a comment to their co-worker such as, "All done now... What else can I do for you?....".
Now, also think  back to those co-workers who, despite having signed legal acknowledgements of receiving the official employee manual and attended multiple training days in workplace standards performance - always seemed to slip out of assuming responsibility....and had an excuse for everything?
Could this be the wrong approach?
It all reminds me of someone once telling me that padlocks are really only for keeping the honest people out of a shed. And it goes something like this: If someone who's character is that of slippery dishonesty and thievery, when they see a padlock on a tool shed, do they simply throw their hands up and say, well, gosh, I guess I can't get inside there now?  Of course not. They have come prepared with a little portable bolt cutter, they look around a couple of times, then snip it off quickly and help themselves to what's inside. The same process is repeated by similar-minded employees in the workplace, within a wide variety of contexts whereby they advantage themselves and simultaneously sidestep accountability. 

So what does the padlock do?  It keeps out the people who would not have stolen from that tool shed in the first place. Same with workplace rules - they work really well protecting the workplace and the service mission from those workers who, readily and without being asked, accept their full responsibilities. Yet, those rules don't do too much to avert bad behavior from the others, the ones they were actually designed for, and designed to somehow keep them in line. Perplexing, isn't it?
So what's an Estate Manager to do?  In my humble opinion, it begins with building a culture of worker accountability - beginning with the worker, first  - a slightly different approach than the Estate Manager being accountable, first, for worker behaviors which, ultimately, he/she has some influence, yet little control over.  And the best book I've read on the topic, mentioned above, is one of the best ways I know to help influence such a foundation. The rest will be up to, well, as the title says, those workers who have taken the initiative to become the employee their company can't live without.
When every worker - at every level - knows that responsibility and accountability begins with them... an amazing thing happens:  Your estate will ultimately become populated with people who are... accountable. 

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