Do you remember playing baseball with your friends when in a split second the ball went crashing through a window? As you nervously looked around, you soon realized you would have to admit to the accident. 

Even if you’ve never sent a baseball flying through a window, there  surely have been any number of instances where you had to take responsibility for your actions. This naturally follows into the workplace.

You are responsible for many things, and so are your employees. But how do you ensure that there’s a culture of accountability in your business? Don Tyler, management consultant, Clarks Hill, Ind., says that the owner or manager has to spell out certain details. “If specific measures aren’t in writing, you don’t have anything to hold employees accountable to.”

Tyler recommends that you put the following items in writing:

  • Detailed job descriptions.
  • Job application forms: This creates a level of accountability when an employee signs it and says “this is my employment history.”
  • Performance evaluation: This form creates accountability by giving each employee a record of his or her on-the-job performance.
  • Employee handbook: This is the place to outline company procedures (and expectations) for employees. It sets the business’ tone for acceptable behaviors and processes.

“Increasingly people come to work thinking they don’t owe the workplace anything, and they treat it accordingly,” says Tyler. “It’s becoming quite an issue for some places.”

He notes that pork operations with few behavioral problems make it clear what is and is not acceptable. Those points are different for every place, and ownership or management has to define them.

For instance, Tyler has had some clients who require a “no-swearing” environment. Another client had a problem with employees not understanding some co-workers’  humor, so the managers established a rule of no sarcasm.

“It comes down to setting a tone that’s acceptable,” says Tyler. “You have to encourage co-workers to hold each other accountable.” For example, if someone says something inappropriate, anyone can call him or her on it. You don’t have to take the issue to the manager.

Accountability not only applies to personal behavior, but job performance as well. This is where production practices and standard operating procedures come into play.

One place that takes employee accountability seriously is Wakefield Pork in Gaylord, Minn. This is a family based operation owned by the Peters and Langhorsts. The pork production company has approximately 200 employees and works with producers for a total of 200 leased or contract facilities.

Wakefield’s success with accountability is due to its big picture mentality,” says Mary Langhorst, the company’s human-resources director. “Employees know their roles and what is expected, and they are willing to take ownership of that. They know the importance of their jobs because WPI stresses that all profits are made or lost within the production unit.”

In addition to the basic written materials, WPI has placed several production manuals throughout each unit. WPI supplies biosecurity manuals and sign-in sheets to monitor personnel and visitor movements. There also are safety manuals and work-task lists placed for reference throughout the facilities.

There are specific program-system manuals to assist and guide finishing-unit growers. The manuals are audited twice a year to maintain an accountability level required to participate in a USDA (process verified) program, called Pork L.C. for the European Union.

Another important area that can help build accountability is to define standard-operating procedures. This can be quite extensive for some operations. Tyler says he’s seen these contain everything from the proper way to change a light bulb, to production specifics on how to process baby pigs and haul manure.

Accountability needs to be portrayed at every business level. “The tools, those being the manuals, evaluations, various forms, handbooks, checklists and such, are put in place to help a person succeed,” says Langhorst. “It’s what you do with the tools that make the difference.” 

She offers an example. WPI introduced a new protocol that changed breeding procedures for the breeding herd. Managers and department heads were trained in the new procedure to save labor and semen costs. At the same time they were expected to raise farrowing rates. From there, the managers train the breeding technicians in the new procedures. In the end, everyone has a complete understanding of the new process, what is expected and the potential results. That all makes accountability more practical and equitable.

Langhorst says it took time to get the employees on board with the new breeding system, but everyone knew it would help benefit the unit’s budget and the entire operation.

“My employees respond to accountability with a positive attitude,” says Jeff Uhde, WPI’s west-unit manager. “They know on a daily basis what WPI expects of them and what I personally expect of them.”

As an added incentive, WPI instituted a Naspig system that is designed like a competitive game and is based on bonus points. It includes the goals established at all of the farrowing operations, which creates a tight competition between units. 

“We display the results weekly so workers in each unit know the weak and strong points, and where they compare to other units,” says Langhorst. “Rewards are given on a quarterly basis and again at year’s end. It provides immediate feed back to the company and the employees, on how well they are performing.”      

This is just one example of how employees can benefit from taking responsibility for their actions. Other examples are possible promotions, job security or additional bonuses, such as extra days off or tickets to a game or concert.

The fallout from not being accountable can range from losing a bonus to being placed on performance probation.

There are three things that are critical for managers/owners to make accountability work, notes Tyler.

1 Speak up. Someone has to step up and say something if an employee steps out of line. You have to train people to say, “that is not our policy” or “this is how we do it.”

2 Act quickly. When you see a problem, whether it be a behavior or production issue, deal with it as quickly as possible. Tyler suggests that if the inappropriate action occurs in public, deal with it in public; if it occurs in private, deal with it privately. This sends a message to all employees on how you address issues quickly and directly. It isn’t meant to embarrass an employee, but rather to let all employees know what is acceptable. There’s much less risk in dealing with it immediately, and a tremendous risk in waiting.

“My belief is that accountability is a part of WPI’s  culture,” says Langhorst. Supervisors, managers and technicians deal with issues on a day-to-day basis. The managers address issues immediately up front with each individual. Within each unit the focus is on the responsibility that each person has to the rest of the team.”

3  Be consistent. “It’s hard to establish a level of accountability that everyone expects if managers favor one employee over others,” says Tyler. “This tells employees there are different levels of accountability based on friendship and relationship with the manager.”

Employees will recognize a level playing field and a professional atmosphere.

“We all know what is expected of us,” says Michelle Fuller, an interim WPI manager. “If even one manager doesn’t do what is expected, the whole crew would notice. It could snowball into another person thinking they can get by with something. We always try to stay consistent.”

Stephen Covey, author of the book Seven Habits of Highly Effective People says, “We are like a book of matches. It takes only one match out of the whole book to start a fire.”

Langhorst says that each person has a vital role to the team. Once that is understood, it seems like the unit  runs itself.”

Your pork operation’s success depends on accountability from employees as well as the manager and owner. If each person takes responsibility for his or her actions, you won’t have to struggle to find out, “who broke the window?”