Restaurant Management Skill #3: Accountability

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It’s hard to hold other people accountable if you don’t hold yourself accountable. Great leaders understand that culture is the result the behavior they themselves exhibit. Your team will imitate the behavior they see from you.

If you say you’ll do something and don’t follow through, your staff remembers that. If you want them to be on time, you’ve got to be punctual as well. (Or, perhaps being on time isn’t as important as you say it is.) The results you get depend on your actions, not just your words. Talk is truly cheap and actions are far more representative of what you’re “saying.”

Accountability is not simply taking the blame when something goes wrong. It’s about delivering on a commitment. It’s responsibility to an outcome, not just a set of tasks. It’s taking initiative with thoughtful, strategic follow through. The more accountability your restaurant has, the more successful it's going to be. When people feel accountable, they take ownership of the outcome, and they will work harder and longer to ensure that success is achieved.

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Research shows that on 70% of initiatives that failed, the people involved knew from the start that it was going to fail. This belief that failure is imminent can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. But if people believe an initiative is going to succeed, they are surprised when something starts to go wrong—and they look for ways to fix it. They go into solution mode, not “I told you so” mode. This doesn't guarantee success, but it increases the odds exponentially.

You can direct your staff, question them and even plead with them to be accountable. But that’s not enough. To foster accountability you need to aim for clarity in several areas:

Clear expectations. Be clear about the outcome you expect, how you’ll measure success, and how people should go about achieving the objective. It doesn’t all have to come from you. In fact, the more skilled your people are, the more ideas should be coming from them. Have a genuine two-way conversation, and then ask the other person to summarize the important pieces—the outcome they’re going for, how they are going to achieve it, and how they’ll know whether they’re successful—to make sure you’re on the same page. Writing out a summary is a good idea, too.

Clear capability. What skills does the person need to meet the expectations? What resources will they need? Ask them these questions. If they don’t have right the skills you’ll need to delegate someone else, and if they don’t have the resources you’ll need to acquire them. Otherwise you’re setting them up for failure.

Once they agree they have what they need to succeed, then they have accepted accountability and ownership for the outcome. If you don't get their buy in, then they will see you as accountable when they fail—not themselves—because you didn't give them what they needed to succeed.

As a bonus, you can also maintain accountability throughout by adding: "If you feel you need anything just come to me and ask." This helps because, not only do they start off as accountable but they also know they have an option to resolve upcoming issues. (That said, you should require some independent thought and problem-solving skills so you’re not bogged down in managing every issue that arises.)

Clear measurement. Nothing frustrates managers more than being surprised by failure. Sometimes this happens because the person who failed was afraid to ask for help. Sometimes it comes from too much optimism on both sides. Either way, it’s avoidable. During the expectations conversation, agree on weekly milestones with clear, measurable, objective targets. If any of these targets slip, jump on it immediately. Brainstorm a solution, identify a fix, redesign the schedule, or respond in other way that gets the person back on track.

Clear feedback. Honest, open, ongoing feedback is critical. People should know where they stand. If you have clear expectations, capability and measurement, feedback can be fact-based and easy to deliver. Is the person delivering on commitments? If they need to increase their capability, are they on track? The feedback can go both ways—is there something you can do to be more helpful? Give feedback weekly, and remember it’s more important to be helpful than nice. Be as nice as possible when giving feedback, but if you’re frustrated be sure to make it known.

Clear consequences. If you’ve been clear in the above ways, you have three choices: repeat, reward or release. Repeat the steps above if you feel there is still a lack of clarity in the system. If the person succeeded, you should reward them appropriately (acknowledgement, promotion, etc.). If they have not proven accountable and you are reasonably sure you followed the steps above, then they are not a good fit for the role, and you should release them from it (change roles, fire them, etc.).

These are the building blocks for a culture of accountability. The magic is in the way they work together as a system. If you miss any one, accountability will fall through that crack.

When you set people up for success most of them will accept the opportunity. If you’ve hired the right people, they won’t be afraid of hard work—instead, they’ll be afraid of failure. When they have everything they need to be successful they will work harder, and go into solution mode when a situation proves difficult or when results are not in line with expectations. When you set people up for success, they will be more successful.

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Check out more articles in this series:

Restaurant Management Skill #1: Adaptable Leadership

Restaurant Management Skill #2: Open Communication

Restaurant Management Skill #4: Attention to Detail