Why develop a specific accountability program? Isn't accountability inherent in any organization that hires and fires people, gives them raises, bonuses, and promotions?
An example may help explain the importance and purpose of accountability. Imagine a sports organization with an owner, manager, coach and team of players. Each person has specific tasks and responsibilities that are critical to the overall success of the team.
A system of accountability ensures that each person on the team fulfills his or her responsibilities. When players fail to show up for practice with no reasonable cause they are fined. If they perform poorly, for whatever reason, they fail to make the starting lineup. Player contracts reflect trends in poor performance or relative value to the team, thus creating a form of personal accountability for performance. We have all heard of coaches and managers fired at the end -- sometimes even in the middle -- of a season. The potential for dismissal creates a very real sense of personal accountability among coaches and managers. For owners, considerations of profit and loss are powerful motivators to do the job well. Reputation and public approval are strong motivators for all team members.
One readily can see how important an accountability system is for a sports club, and the purposes this system serves. Business also involves owners, managers, coaches (or supervisors), and players (the general staff). Each person on the team has his or her area of responsibility. Unfortunately, these areas are not always clearly defined, particularly in a small business. The organization's members may not understand that each person must perform at top efficiency in order to create a successful team.
Often the owner also functions as manager and supervisor. Supervisors are sometimes asked to double as managers or production workers as needs arise. These kinds of flexible and undefined (yet often necessary) organizational structures in a small business can lead to breakdowns in accountability. As new responsibilities and business initiatives are created, they are not always accompanied by additional personnel, and existing programs may suffer.
In large businesses, responsibilities frequently are so complex that some get neglected. Accountability also breaks down when responsibilities are assigned but the needed authority or resources are not provided.
The purpose of an accountability program is to help all team members understand how critical their performance is and to teach them to take personal responsibility for their performance. In the present context, accountability ensures that your safety and health program is not just a "paper tiger" with no real power to win its objectives. The following steps will help you ensure safety and health accountability.
Before you can hold people accountable for their actions you must be sure they know what is expected of them. They must have goals set for their personal performance.
Individual goals for safety and health stem from the overall company goal.
The next step is to set individual performance objectives for employees with assigned safety and health responsibilities. These objectives must be understandable, measurable, and achievable. It is your job to clearly establish who is responsible for performing specific tasks. Check your assignments of responsibility to make sure that they specify who does what, and that they are reasonably attainable. Where objectives are unclear, the ball can easily get dropped, and it will be hard to determine whose performance is lacking.
When you assign responsibilities to individuals, it is essential that you also delegate the necessary authority and/or commit sufficient resources. Few things can be more demoralizing to a conscientious employee than being given an assignment without the means necessary to carry it out. By providing the means you will be helping to ensure the accomplishing of objectives.
Objectives for individuals should be based upon performance measures. These are indicators that tell you whether the person did or did not perform as expected. The following considerations will help you set reasonable objectives:
Write each objective. State in specific terms what is to be achieved and to what degree. Include a deadline for accomplishing the objective. Try to keep the objective concrete and measurable. At a later time, you will need to be able to determine whether the objective has been achieved.
The very act of writing will help you clarify your meaning and intent. When questions arise, there will be a document to which you and others can refer. The existence of this document will signal that you are serious about meeting the objective.
Give a copy of the performance objectives to the employee for whom they were written. Refer to these objectives in future performance discussions with this employee.
Periodically review the performance objectives to make sure you are getting the desired performance and results. For instance, if a supervisor meets the objectives, but the department continues to have too many accidents, too many close calls, or no improvement in conditions, then the objectives need to be revised.
Performance evaluation can be oral, written, or both. An effective evaluation will include the following critical elements:
Some task monitoring may be necessary to support the performance evaluation. For example, you may need to monitor a supervisor’s accident investigations after each accident until it is clear that the supervisor has developed the necessary skills. This task monitoring can form the substance of later performance evaluations.
Keep in mind that the complexity and formality of your evaluations should be in keeping with the rest of your safety and health program.
At first, as the employee learns new skills and changes behavior patterns, there should be minimal or no consequences for poor performance. Instead, use positive reinforcement during this initial phase of performance evaluation to encourage your employee's natural desire to do well and to be recognized.
Although the goal of any accountability program should be to develop a sense of personal accountability for actions, individuals often need to know there are negative consequences for poor performance. Consequences reinforce the importance of meeting objectives. Be sure that supervisors and managers understand when the consequence will occur. There should be no surprises.
Consequences need to be appropriate to the situation. Firing a supervisor for the first poorly conducted accident investigation is an obvious example of overreacting to a problem. Gradually, though, the consequences of poor performance should be increased to some specified maximum severity. One common disciplinary system consists of (1) oral warnings, (2) written warnings, (3) fines or suspensions and, as a last resort, (4) termination. You may find, however, that other consequences produce the desired result. You can experiment with a variety of consequences as long as your employees are fully informed of your intentions.
You may eventually conclude that the individual is not capable of handling the assigned responsibilities. Sufficient training and nurturing through the accountability system have been documented, and poor performance continues. At this point, the reason for the problem (inadequate capabilities, improper attitudes, etc.) should not be the issue. The maximum degree of consequence must be enforced. Otherwise, other employees will conclude that consequences are not to be taken seriously or do not apply equally to everyone. This belief among employees will destroy any chance for an effective accountability program.
An accountability system is essential if all the hard work and effort you spent in developing a safety and health program is not to be lost. However, there is more to an accountability program than enforcing punishment for “bad” employees (including managers and supervisors). The accountability program aims to methodically teach your managers and supervisors to take personal responsibility for their actions and the subsequent effect of these actions on the team.
This is achieved by:
Your employees deserve to have a clear understanding of the nature, severity and timetable of consequences. The interaction between employer and employees provided by an effective accountability program allows your employees to choose for themselves: they can change their performance, they can attempt to change but ultimately acknowledge an inability to perform adequately, or they can choose to ignore your expectations and endure the consequences.
Source: Missouri Department of Labor and Industrial Relations
Copyright ©2000-2019 Geigle Safety Group, Inc. All rights reserved. Federal copyright prohibits unauthorized reproduction by any means without permission. Disclaimer: This material is for training purposes only to inform the reader of occupational safety and health best practices and general compliance requirement and is not a substitute for provisions of the OSH Act of 1970 or any governmental regulatory agency. CertiSafety is a division of Geigle Safety Group, Inc., and is not connected or affiliated with the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL), or the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).