How To Make Your Employees Accountable and Responsible

Often workers want to be responsible but a micro-managing boss can be holding them back

Your role as a leader is less about what you do and more about what your people do; people want to follow leaders who trust them and give out accountability and responsibility.
Your role as a leader is less about what you do and more about what your people do; people want to follow leaders who trust them and give out accountability and responsibility.

I was coaching a construction business owner client, and he told me his employees were terrible, even though most of them had been with him for five years or more. They weren’t accountable or responsible for anything - getting work done on-time or doing quality work. They were continuously doing sloppy work and running over budget on every job. He didn’t know what to do and was very stressed out.

Want to know why employees aren’t accountable or responsible? Think about your reasons. Perhaps you think your people don’t care, or don’t want to work any harder, or don’t want to do more than the minimum required. The real reason is their boss or perhaps you. You don’t make them accountable or responsible! You continue to let them do poor work and not achieve expected results. Most employees want to do a good job and take on more responsibility. But in most cases, their bosses tolerate poor performance, don’t let go of making decisions and treat their people like children who can’t think for themselves. Sound familiar?

As I probed deeper, I discovered my client made all the important decisions for his crews, ordered all the material, scheduled every worker every day, didn’t have field meetings with them, and didn’t share job results with the foreman. No wonder his crews weren’t accountable or responsible for achieving results. They weren’t making any decisions or in charge of their own work plan. The business owner was the only one responsible for anything.

Do You SOPP?

Do people continuously call you or line up outside your office door waiting for you to solve their problems? Why? Maybe you have a sign around your neck: "I SOPP” (I solve other people's problems). When you solve other people's problems, guess what happens? They bring you more problems. But it makes you feel powerful when you control everything for everyone.

When bad bosses give someone a task or responsibility to accomplish, they typically don’t let go of every decision required to fully accomplish the job. This bad boss delegates and then tells the employee to check with them first before committing, making any decisions or spending any money. How can the employee be accountable for something they aren’t responsible for?  People know when they make decisions, you’ll second-guess them, overrule them and not trust them to be as smart as you. So people stop making decisions or accepting responsibility, give you back accountability and continue to bring you more problems. People responsible for nothing are responsible for nothing. Ninety-nine percent responsible is the same as zero percent responsible. Either you are responsible or you're not. You can't be partially responsible. You can't say, "Handle this, but check with me first." Trusting people is the key to improving performance. 

Low control = high performance

Leading your company is not about being in charge and in-control of every aspect of the operation. It’s about getting results through people. Controlling and micro-managing people guarantees low performance. Leadership is about delegating, encouraging, coaching and letting-go. Low control guarantees high performance from people. People want to follow leaders who trust them and give out accountability and responsibility. So your role as a leader is less about what you do and more about what your people do.

Excellent managers encourage employees to take on more responsibility by actually delegating the entire task. This takes more time, patience and trust. Start by explaining the job and outlining the desired end result. This will teach employees how you want things done and what’s expected. Next, make sure they know their boundaries and standard systems, offer training, set interim check-in times, and schedule a review of the final results after the task is completed. Results are what matters. For example, in the hotel business, do you care how the rooms are refreshed or that they’ll look the same when guests arrive? When employees are responsible for results and know exactly what is expected, you can then make them accountable.

Written BIZ-Systems help the process. When you have written trained company systems and standards, you can then make employees accountable and responsible to complete tasks the same way every time. When your procedures are only in your head, you can’t expect employees to read your mind and get it right every time. And to make things worse, when you ask people to do something, and then get upset when they do it wrong, (without proper training or clear understanding of what was expected), they shy away from volunteering to take on more responsibility.

The more you do, the less you make

So, what’s holding your company back? Is it you? Perhaps you’re the real problem as you continue to control everything and everybody. This poor leadership style holds people back from wanting to do more. When you make every decision, people don’t take responsibility. When you fix or solve employee’s problems, they can’t be accountable. When you lead every meeting, managers don’t grow. When you approve every purchase, contract or strategic move, good people don’t have to think or be their best.

When a customer calls with an issue, do you immediately handle it yourself? A better solution would be to listen and then turn your customer’s concern over to a supervisor or manager. When it’s time to make a major purchase or award a large contract, do you get right in the middle of the negotiations? Instead, ask your manager to review the proposals, analyze the inclusions and exclusions, negotiate terms with the lowest responsible company, and then get your final approval. When a supervisor asks you to call a subcontractor or supplier who isn’t performing, do you jump in and take charge? Train your supervisors to plan ahead, use written procedures, checklists, schedules, and team meetings to manage the workflow. One simple delegation strategy is to increase the maximum spending limit for all employees. Delegate by allowing them to spend at least $1,000 or more before they have to get the boss’s approval. The key is to stop making decisions for them.

Let grow to grow

I had a rubber stamp made to use when people gave me an approval request. It states: "Please handle this and don't tell me what you did!" Why? Because I don't want to know how they handled the problem they wanted me to solve. I have to trust them to use their best judgment and take care of it 100 percent. People will make mistakes. But, when you ask them to be 100 percent accountable and responsible, they’ll figure out how to do it right and make careful decisions. If you continually answer their questions and do their jobs for them, they’re going to keep asking you for more help. I found out my employees make better decisions than me, if I let them.

Article: Let Go To Grow

Write out the few things you absolutely can’t delegate. And then list out the top 20 things you can let go of starting immediately. Make a goal to delegate one item on the list every week. You’ll be amazed how excited your people will be to accept new responsibilities and become accountable.

George Hedley works with contractors to build profitable growing companies. He is a professional business coach, popular speaker and best-selling author of “Get Your Business To Work!” available online at  To sign-up for his free e-newsletter, join his next webinar, be part of a BIZCOACH program, or get a discount coupon for online classes at, e-mail [email protected].