Small business success depends on strong leadership. Effective leaders bring out the best in their employees, identify opportunities for them to grow, and motivate them to develop their strengths. 

A culture of accountability is one in which leaders and employees at all levels of an organization demonstrate ownership of their work and operate in a way that prioritizes achieving company objectives with integrity. Team members self-manage, conduct themselves productively, and stay motivated and committed to achieving results. 

But this doesn’t happen magically. It requires a concerted effort, with strong leadership, skilled coaching, employee buy-in, ongoing feedback, and supportive systems and processes. 

Here are two skills you can use to bring out the best in your employees within a culture of accountability. 

1. Coach for improved performance.

High performers tend to become easily frustrated with poor performance. When you’re someone who consistently brings your A-game, you naturally want others to step up to the plate with a similar level of competence and commitment.  But as a leader, bringing your A-game also requires coaching your team for improved performance; it’s a key component of your job.

Coaching employees for success means setting your sights on positive outcomes, removing obstacles, identifying strengths and weaknesses, and offering guidance along the way. 

Like a winning athletic coach, you need to anticipate what may cause team members to drop the ball or fall behind before it even happens, so you can create a game plan for them with the best opportunity for success.

Effective coaching helps employees:

  • become more self-aware and effective in their work 
  • recognize how their actions affect the people around them and the performance of the business in ways they might not have considered 
  • tweak their performance and correct behaviors that may be holding them back without their knowledge
  • stay inspired, motivated, and more confident in their role and career path

As a leader, coaching skills enable you to inspire even those you perceive as “problem” employees to give you their best work. 

Here’s how to coach employees to success:

  • Open Lines of Communication: Employees want to be seen, heard, and appreciated. This requires two-way communication — putting as much effort toward listening to input and receiving feedback as you do toward conveying expectations and giving feedback. 
  • Create a Supportive Work Environment: When you create an environment where people are happy to show up for work and feel appreciated, they will be more receptive to your guidance and more likely to put forth their best effort. This means allowing room to make mistakes, offering flexibility, and letting employees know you trust them.  
  • Remain Curious and Open: Encourage employees to bring their whole selves to work, incorporate passions into their job, and bring fresh approaches and innovative ideas to the table. Coaching isn’t about keeping them in line; it’s about bringing out the best in a person, which often means allowing them to think and work outside of the box.
  • Provide Motivation: When a manager fails to motivate, even the most driven contributor’s performance can falter. Remember, everyone is motivated by different factors. A skilled leader as coach identifies what motivates their employees and makes an effort to go to bat for them. It could mean a pay inventive, more recognition, the opportunity to make a bigger impact, positive feedback, or something different; the key is to make ongoing motivation a priority. 
  • Empower Employees: You have to be willing to give employees a sense of agency and ownership over their job with room to fail or grow. Micromanaging is a sure way to get nothing more than the bare minimum and harboring resentment. A skilled leader as coach knows that even a relatively small amount of leeway can go a long way towards enabling employees to feel more empowered.
  • Tap Into Employee Strengths: Good leaders have a knack for recognizing and leveraging the strengths of their employees. When you give smart, capable, skilled employees opportunities for growth, they tend to expand into the new role and thrive. Driven people feel more appreciated and are more likely to go the extra mile when they are able to put their strengths to good use.  
  • Embrace Coaching: Coaching is a solution-oriented approach to performance improvement. If your team isn’t operating at the level you would like, you have an opportunity to figure out what is going on and set them up for success. Be intentional about your approach, find out what works well, and take steps to replicate and model best practices.

2. Get better at giving tough feedback.

For your small business to succeed, employees must know what is expected of them and they must be held to performance and behavior standards. This means sometimes you’ll need to offer tough feedback and confront poor performance, which can be uncomfortable. But when handled professionally, helping an employee get better at their job can be a rewarding experience.

The issue could be that the employee:

  • needs to contribute in a way that’s better aligned with company expectations, policies, or regulations
  • would benefit from regular positive reinforcement and motivation 
  • could be operating from a genuine misunderstanding or lack of clarity around what’s expected

Think of your feedback as a tool to set, clarify, confirm and reinforce expectations. With a plan and practice, you can grow comfortable and confident with your feedback process. 

Here are some best practices to keep in mind: 

  • Be timely: When a behavior or performance issue arises, plan to address it within a day or two. Don’t stockpile constructive or negative feedback. 
  • Be prepared: Take time to gather your thoughts, the facts, and important details. Get organized and set a time and place for the feedback session. 
  • Start with agreement: Set expectations for the conversation and give the employee an opportunity to buy in. You could state something like, “I need to share some observations with you. Can I give you some feedback about the way that you are greeting our customers that I know will help you be more successful?”
  • Provide details and specifics: Vague feedback can feel like a personal attack; employees deserve concrete examples of instances in which they did not meet expectations. Provide information such as where, when, and what they did that failed to meet expectations.
  • Use impact statements: Employees may fail to understand why the issue matters and think you are just picking on them or blowing things out of proportion. Provide information regarding how their poor performance or behavior impacted the organization, a client, co-worker, etc. 
  • Ask for their input: Encourage the employee to share what they believe they can do to improve, including one or two strategies that will help get them back on track. If you agree, incorporate this into your notes and plan.
  • Deliver the feedback live: People respond more positively to tough feedback when it’s delivered in person or at the very least over the phone or video conference, rather than via email or text. Follow up with an email to confirm the next steps and expectations in writing, and restate policies and goals.
  • Ditch the “sandwich” approach: It’s often been said that employees will accept feedback more readily if it is “sandwiched” between two positive statements. To get the results that you are looking for, stay focused on the single message — that improvement is required. 
  • Be genuinely supportive: Don’t tell your employee, “I know you can do it!” Instead, tell them something like, “Ok, the ball is in your court and I’m rooting for you. I will be right there to help you, anytime you ask for it!

After offering feedback — especially tough feedback — make it a priority to actively coach your employee to support their improvement. Set aside quick check-in times once a week to discuss progress. If the issues continue, set up another meeting to discuss your concerns. If the issues still aren’t getting resolved, make sure the employee knows that their job is in jeopardy. 

Sharing important feedback is an investment in your organization’s future and it’s critical to success. 

Building a culture of accountability

Have you ever worked in an environment with low accountability? It can have a negative impact on workplace culture, morale, and performance. Workers tend to feel undervalued and lack direction. High performers tend to feel like they’re picking up the slack. Boundaries get crossed, tensions run high, and employee retention is a continuous problem. 

By building a culture of accountability, you can take the relationship you have with employees to the next level, resolve common workplace behavioral problems, tap into your team’s potential, and set your organization up for success.