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Q. I have a small business and know that I should hold my employees accountable for delivering results, but, truthfully, I’m not sure I know what that means or how to do it. Can you help?

A. Delegating decision making authority without properly holding people accountable is a recipe for disaster. Decision makers must be held accountable for the results they produce. However, there is much more to holding people accountable than telling someone they are responsible for results and chastising them when you aren’t happy with how things go. Effectively holding employees accountable requires four steps:

1. Set Clear and Measurable Goals – If you are going to hold employees accountable for delivering results, you must be explicit about exactly what results you expect. To be most effective, the goals should be:

• Written – If you don’t write the goals down, the chance for a misunderstanding regarding exactly what the goal is increases exponentially.

• Harmonious – Ensure that the goals you set for an employee are aligned with each other. They should also be aligned with the company’s overall goals and with the goals of other employees.

• Specific and Measurable – Broad, generalizations such as, “Improve performance,” are not helpful. “Achieve sales of $1.3 million in Q1” is a much better goal. It is specific, measurable and not open to interpretation. There can be no disagreement regarding whether the employee achieved the goal.

• Achievable with effort – Goals that are too easy to attain aren’t useful. They will not drive performance. Goals that are unattainable will frustrate rather than motivate employees. Employees should see the goals as a real stretch, but achievable.

• Time and Resource constrained – Be clear regarding when the goal must be achieved and the resources that the employee can use. Growing annual sales by 10 percent may be a wonderful goal, but if the employee achieves this by hiring six new salespeople or spending a million dollars on advertising, the cost may exceed the benefit.

2. Delegate Authority – You must delegate to the accountable employee the key decisions that will affect results. For example, we often see well-meaning business owners attempt to hold an employee accountable for delivering results, but they do not give the employee the authority to choose his/her team. This is a mistake. Nothing impacts results more than the choice of who will do the work. If you are going to effectively hold people accountable for results, you must empower them to make the decisions that impact the results.

3. Measure and Review Results – You must measure, track and review results with employees. Too often, we’ve seen goals developed, written down and put into a drawer. Either they are never discussed again or they are discussed only a year later at the annual review. Periodically reviewing the employee’s progress versus the goal is much more effective.

4. Address Deficiencies – During the reviews, if the employee is not on track to succeed, require him/her to develop a plan to address the deficiency. Berating the employee is not helpful. Instead, ask her/him what he/she will do to correct the problem. If the response isn’t sufficient, coach the employee by asking leading questions. Help your charge develop a set of action steps that will allow her/him achieve the goal. Remember, as the manager, you are accountable for ensuring that your employees succeed. At the end of the day, if your employees fail to achieve their goals, you have failed as well.

Holding employees accountable is a critical skill for good managers. The four steps above will help ensure that you are successful.

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