Get Your People to Do Things Right
5 steps to building an accountable and responsible team

Effectively managing a construction company is a near-impossible task. There are so many moving parts, people and customer problems—nothing is fully in your control. To make it more difficult, you are continually expected to perform perfectly at low prices. The many pressures of managing your company include the struggle to get paid, dealing with subcontractor and supplier relationships, price cuts, scheduling crews and equipment and making sure all of the above is done correctly. My guess is that your main challenge is getting employees to do things right. You constantly worry about whether they have performed well, completed the entire task, treated customers fairly, employed best safety practices in the process and met all the goals of the project.

The ultimate ongoing challenge is to develop disciplined, responsible managers and employees. You need them to work as a team, represent the company well, care about quality, be productive and improve the bottom line. I often get asked, "How can I trust my employees to do exactly what I want them to do?" The business owner goes on to say, "I have a small company. A mistake can cost me everything. Nobody cares like I do, so I can't delegate much or let my employees make any big decisions." To overcome this accountability and responsibility problem, consider the following challenges.

Do You Chase Wheelbarrows?

I was visiting a construction jobsite and noticed one of our longtime employees cleaning the slab. He swept trash into his shovel and then walked about 100 yards to the trash bin. He repeated this several times until I finally stopped him and asked, "Where is your wheelbarrow?" He said his boss didn't give him one. I then asked if a wheelbarrow would make the job go faster. He said yes.

I looked for the foreman and superintendent to no avail. So, I went to the storage bin, unlocked it and got a wheelbarrow for him to use. I solved the problem...or did I? Have you ever fixed something yourself, but not addressed the bigger issue? The real problem was that the laborer wasn't trusted or given the responsibility to think for himself, make decisions, choose the right tools or be responsible and achieve the expected results. He wasn't accountable for anything except staying busy.

Are You a Firefighter?

Do you ever feel like a firefighter running from one fire to another with only a garden hose? Do you work all day on your employees' jobs and then work all night on yours? Your employees can handle more responsibility. The real problem is that you don't give it to them. In a recent poll of field employees, 66 percent were asked to make decisions, but only 14 percent felt empowered and trusted enough to actually make decisions. The employees were afraid their boss would yell at them for mistakes. Therefore, they didn't want to take on more than what was absolutely necessary.

Who Owns the Problem?

When the boss owns every problem, only he or she can solve it correctly. When you solve other people\'92s problems, they rely on you to solve all their problems. When employees aren't responsible for anything, how can they be responsible for solutions? Do your employees rely on you to solve their problems? When you solve employees' problems, they can't grow and improve. When you treat employees like children, they act like children and only do what they have been told. It's your job to train your employees and make them responsible. You have to let go in order to grow.

Are you TRYing TO Do it All?

Small business owners start out as the sole proprietor making every decision. Successful business owners quickly realize they can't do it all themselves and they need empowered, trustworthy people if they want to grow. Larger companies employ multiple levels of responsible people who make most everyday business decisions. The No. 1 reason employees don't accept accountability or responsibility is that they don't know exactly what they are expected to do. Consider the following five steps to get your people to do things right.

1. Establish clear expectations.

Tell them, show them, write it down and make lists of what is required. Then, ask employees to explain what you told them to verify they completely understand the task and expected result. A good leader takes plenty of time to explain how to do the job, the implementation plan, procedures and productivity requirements.

2. Create a scorecard tracking system.

To make people accountable for results, they must know what results are expected; what tools, manpower and resources are budgeted and the deadline they are required to meet. When employees are told to do things and don't know how long it should take, they can't take responsibility and be accountable for results. Without a scorecard, people can't be expected to get things done on time. There must be ongoing project targets to track, review and measure to achieve results. Team members need to know where they stand in order to meet the required goals and expectations.

3. Define levels of authority.

In your company, which employees can spend money, buy materials and tools or make important decisions? Without defined levels of responsibility, rules and parameters, employees cannot become empowered team leaders and be expected to make good decisions. Given little or no authority, they are unaccountable and irresponsible. Accountable employees need clear job descriptions outlining what results they are accountable for, what tasks they are required to do on a regular daily, weekly or monthly basis and what level of authority they need in order to achieve the expected results.

4. Be a coach, not a controller.

People want to be coached, not controlled. The best coach usually wins the most games. Why? They train their players to execute plays that have been proven to win, and then they get off the field. The more you control, the less your people will do for themselves. The more decisions you make for them, the fewer decisions they will make on their own. The more questions you answer for them, the less they will think and learn.

5. Celebrate and reward success.

You know what else good coaches do? They regularly recognize, praise and encourage their players. Make it your priority to look for the good, instead of pointing out the bad. Start weekly recognition programs for people who save or make the most money, perform excellently, have the best attitude, make the best decisions or go the extra mile for the customer. Some weeks you should decide the winners, but other weeks, let your employees choose.

By implementing these five simple steps, your workforce will want to take on more responsibility. The key is to let go of making every decision. Get started right now by taking three items off of your to-do list and delegating them to someone else.

To submit a question for George Hedley, email Associate Editor Elizabeth Manning at