by Bill Prosch

One of the biggest problems that small business owners and managers face is the struggle to hold employees accountable for their actions. But, when you look closely, is that really the problem? Or is it something else? Something more basic? The answer to accountability lies within our own actions.

To understand the issue, let’s draw a parallel and make the assumption that employing people is very similar to raising kids. Stay with me here, I promise this will eventually make sense. As parents, our ultimate goal is to grow our children into responsible, self-sufficient human beings, with an understanding of right and wrong, a strong work ethic, and the ability and desire to treat others fairly and kindly. You can add whatever else fits your beliefs, but let’s face it, if you successfully raised a child to live his or her life guided by those principles, you didn’t do too bad.

To accomplish this miracle, we set limits and boundaries, praising them when they succeed and coaching them when they struggle. Good parents understand that their goal is not to be the child’s friend; children will have lots of those, good and bad. Our responsibility is to be their coach and mentor — their parent; to show them the way by setting the example.

Being a good parent requires that we hold our kids accountable, making sure they stay within the limits and boundaries we have set, while allowing them room to imagine and explore without hurting themselves or others. Good parents have the respect of their children. Their children may not always like them, but they do respect them.

So let’s talk about our employees. As owners and managers, our job is to find responsible, self-sufficient employees with strong ethics who treat each other, as well as our customers, fairly and kindly. A good employer sets limits and boundaries, praising the employee when they succeed and coaching them when they falter. A good employer leads by example and holds the employee accountable to established limits and boundaries while also giving them room to create and imagine better ways to do things.

Because of all this, good employers have the respect of their employees, knowing they don’t have to be liked, but they do have to be respected. That part is worth repeating. Good employers know they don’t have to be liked, but they do have to be respected. Developing great employees sounds a lot like raising children, doesn’t it?

Consider the idea of leading by example. The internet is full of articles describing how children learn much more by observing what we do versus what we say. This tells us that perhaps the old adage is right — actions actually do speak louder than words when it comes to raising our kids. Can we logically apply that concept to employees as well?

Of course we can. A manager who demands punctuality from his employees but arrives late to work himself and is always delayed when starting meetings isn’t much of a role model. Conversely, the manager who demands punctuality from his employees garners their respect when they see that he is always the first to arrive to work in the morning and always starts and ends meetings on time. It’s because they can see that the manager’s words are backed up by his actions.

There is a ripple effect that can greatly influence the results of our efforts. Stanford University’s Albert Bandura is frequently described as the world’s greatest living psychologist. Bandura’s Social Learning Theory suggests that people learn from one another, via observation, imitation and modeling. Assuming Bandura’s theory is correct, couldn’t we substitute “employees” for the word “people”? By doing so, we see that not only are our actions observed, they are imitated and modeled. Again, what you do is much more important than what you say.

One of my colleagues at Violand Management Associates, Scott Tackett, can frequently be heard stating the need to be “firm, fair and consistent” with your employees. In regard to positively influencing the actions of employees, no truer words were ever spoken. Modeling the type of behavior you expect from your employees is a firm, fair and consistent action. It guarantees that employees imitating and modeling your behavior will be acting in a positive way.

Going back to my original question, is the struggle to hold employees accountable for their actions really one of our biggest problems? It might be. But solving the problem of your own behavior, and becoming an employer worthy of your employees’ respect and imitation, may naturally eliminate many of those accountability problems without any extra effort on your part. And if accountability problems remain, having that level of respect will make dealing with the problems a lot less complicated.


Bill Prosch, CR, is a Business Development Adviser for Violand Management Associates (VMA), a highly-respected consulting company in the restoration and cleaning industries. Prosch is a leading expert in operations and a Certified Restorer. He has a deep understanding of entrepreneurial challenges having owned and operated a successful restoration company for more than 30 years. Through Violand, he works with companies to develop their people and their profits. To reach him, visit violand.com or call (800)360-3513.