In this article, we'll explore what accountability really means. We'll see how it's not about micro-management, surveillance tactics, or criticizing. Instead, accountability is a key part of making positive changes and reaching both personal and work-related goals. It helps us feel more productive and creates a work environment that's truly satisfying.
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Accountability in Action: A Real-Life Example
I once read a book that talked about a military saying: no plan will survive its first encounter with the enemy. This idea leads commanders to share the purpose, or "intent" of a plan with their soldiers. This way, everyone can adjust their actions as needed, without waiting for detailed instructions from their superiors every step of the way.
Not long ago, I saw this idea of "commander’s intent" in action at a farm. We were there to look at their feed center, hoping to get design ideas to share with our clients. As soon as we arrived, my colleague remarked, "It's like they knew we were coming and tidied up." He said this because the pavement was clean with no sign of wasted feed, all the feed bins looked orderly, and the silage pile was faced perfectly. The feed center was designed to let multiple loaders and trucks work simultaneously. We watched as they all moved in a well-coordinated dance, each loader scooping feed and delivering it to the feed mixers in turn.
The thing was… they didn't know we were coming. This was their everyday routine.
What stood out to me was the farm owner's behavior. He drove at a steady 10 MPH as we followed him to the feed lot, setting an example for safe driving to support the farm’s "commander’s intent."
It was evident that the farm employees understood this intent too. They drove slowly to ensure safety and prevent unnecessary feed waste. The loaders carefully watched the scale indicators as they loaded the feed, and took the time to remove twine from the hay bales, depositing it in nearby trash bins. They also broke up the hay bales to prevent sudden weight changes as the hay was added to the mixers. The operation was clean, and everyone seemed to be taking their job seriously. They each held themselves accountable for their own areas of responsibility.
Later, back at the office, we stood with the farm owner, reviewing reports on his computer that showed the accuracy of his feeders. My colleague asked how he managed to get such impressive results, with employees so consistently following the principles that led to this accuracy. The owner's response was immediate but perhaps a bit misleading. He said, "I give them a bonus!"
My colleague, an experienced farm manager, didn't blink an eye. He confided in me later that he didn't believe that for a second. He'd seen on other farms how incentives were offered, only for employees to game the system. They'd alter the data to look like they were meeting the criteria for the bonus, but this manipulation didn't improve the cows' performance. It only changed the numbers.
So, with this in mind, my colleague pressed the farm owner further about why his employees were truly accountable for their actions, instead of just manipulating the numbers. The fact is the owner was using tools to help his employees improve, not punish them for mistakes. Here's what he did:
- He held weekly meetings with his feeders.
- He was very clear about his goal: he wanted his feeders to have less than a 2% error margin when handling feed.
- He took the time to share why this goal was important. I don't recall the exact numbers, but he shared that he spent about $60,000 a day on feed. Previously, the feeders had a 6-8% error margin. By keeping errors under two percent, he figured he could save around $70,000 a month.
- During the meetings, he would share each feeder's error margin and review the consistency of loads throughout the week. If a feeder's error margin was high, there was no punishment. Instead, he'd ask them how they thought they could improve and use specific load details to look for opportunities to improve. If they weren't sure, he would provide training on things like slowing down to increase accuracy, breaking up large ingredients for easier loading, and other key concepts.
- If a feeder's error margin was below two percent, they got a bonus. Even then, they would review load details to pinpoint what they were doing right, so other feeders could learn.
The key was that everyone who worked for the owner understood his intent. His goal was accuracy, a basic principle that saved the operation a lot of money every day. Greater accuracy also improved farm safety and increased milk production. When the farm saved or earned more money, everyone benefited. The owner wasn't interested in micro-managing. He simply wanted everyone to have a chance to perform better, and his employees trusted him on this.
What is Accountability?
Accountability sometimes gets a bad rap. It's often seen as employers forcing employees into a certain way of doing things, which can feel like constant surveillance or micromanaging.
Employers have to tread carefully, as attempts to enforce accountability can stem from a desire for more control. But the true purpose of accountability is much simpler. When approached correctly, it leads to a sense of freedom, as it lessens the need to control aspects of work that an employer can't realistically oversee.
When an employer hires someone, they usually do so with the understanding that there is a certain job that needs to be done and that the employee agrees to do the job. Accountability is the personal commitment from the employee to say, "I'll take responsibility for my tasks, decisions, and actions, and I'm willing to share what I do with my employer."
When employees feel their employer doesn't have their best interests at heart, they may shy away from accountability. They might feel their employer doesn't trust them enough to do the job they were hired for.
Instead, both the employer and the employee need to look at accountability as a tool for growth. The mindset of an accountable person points towards self-improvement, self-motivation, and commitment. This mindset is expanded greatly when the actions are not only for personal gain, but for the good of everyone.
Three Ingredients for a Successful Accountability Program
In the example I gave earlier, employees were working with a trusted employer. They were accomplishing their tasks and, in turn, achieving the employer's goals. They felt the satisfaction of fulfilling their commitments and receiving rewards beyond their regular wages.
There are three main ingredients for a successful accountability program in the workplace:
- Clear, Specific Goals Aligned with Business Profitability.
In the farm example, accuracy didn't directly earn the dairy money, but better milk did. Improved accuracy helped ensure a few things:
- The pre-determined diet was balanced for milk production and the components that increase profitability.
- The ingredients of this diet were communicated clearly to the employees that mix and deliver the ration.
- The employees had clear instructions and understood their target for accuracy. They received continual feedback and training on how to be accurate.
- The cows were fed the right diet on schedule, ensuring they had the energy to produce high-quality milk.
Accuracy was a specific, achievable goal that everyone understood. It was clear what "accuracy" meant and how to measure it. With knowledge, patience, and practice, every employee could reach this goal.
- Leading by Example with a Trusted Partner
The employer didn't ask the employees to do anything he wouldn't do himself. He walked the walk and talked the talk, so to speak. He set the tone for the workplace culture, driving slowly and carefully around the farm and taking time to properly prepare and add ingredients for the feed. He provided a supportive environment where employees felt they wouldn't be punished while they were still learning and improving. If an employee was struggling, the employer provided time and training to help them succeed.
- Transparent, Relevant Feedback for Continuous Improvement
The employer set a specific, achievable goal and gave employees the tools they needed to get instant feedback. This data was stored and made available to managers, owners, and individual employees. Every week, the employer reviewed this information with each employee, looking together for areas to improve.
It's important to remember that employers don't always have all the answers. Employees, with their diverse experiences, can often bring fresh insights to the workplace. By collaborating and reviewing reports with an open mind, teams can uncover new methods to achieve their goals even faster.
Getting the Full Benefits from Accountability
As touched on earlier, accountability isn't just for employees—it's also crucial for owners and managers. True improvement requires commitment and effort from everyone. To fully benefit from accountability, there are some key attitudes and actions everyone should work on.
- Be Open-minded
- You must be open to the possibilities to change. No one is perfect, nor does anyone have all the answers, and experience can always be improved upon.
- Employers must remember that they've hired people to assist with tasks they either can't do or don't have time to do themselves. This situation calls for humility and gratitude. Building up your employees and encouraging their feedback can significantly accelerate their improvement.
- Employees should be open to feedback and look for ways to contribute to the company's goals. Displaying gratitude towards your employer and capitalizing on opportunities for growth requires humility.
Approaching goals with an open and humble attitude paves the way for improved results. During the review and analysis of actions, open-mindedness aids in identifying key areas for improvement.
- Transparent Communication
Clear and honest communication is a vital component of effective accountability. Once an employer has defined a goal, they should be willing to share the relevant details about the business openly, honestly, and transparently.
Trust is fundamental to the employer-employee relationship. An employer who trusts their employee to do their best also needs to consider the employee's best interests. Both parties should feel comfortable collaborating on challenges. An employee that feels like they will get in trouble if they are having difficulties with their job will not progress. An employer who develops a culture of openness, trust, and mutual understanding fosters progress as both parties work together to solve real problems.
You are responsible for you. Ask yourself what you can do, examine your actions, and act according to your commitments. Seek out opportunities to assist others and feel confident sharing your ideas with colleagues and management.
Employers can foster a proactive culture by being receptive to new ideas and testing them to gauge their effectiveness. Setting specific goals can also create a task-oriented environment. As employees focus on necessary tasks to meet goals, the fruits of their labor will instill a sense of success.
- Measure Your Progress
A key practical step towards achieving goals is having a method to track and analyze progress. A specific goal with a clearly defined metric will help everyone gauge whether they're on track.
EZfeed as a Tool for Mutual Accountability
EZfeed feed management software was designed to assist owners and feed managers in identifying feed-related issues and trends. In livestock feed operations, decisions are often independently made by nutritionists, managers, and feeders, leading to potential inconsistencies in feeding routines. This lack of uniformity can disrupt a livestock's diet and feeding times—and dairy cows crave consistency!
I remember a conversation with a dairy farmer who learned a valuable lesson about creating rations for his dairy farm. At first, he mainly focused on the cost of ingredients. If he found a cheaper but similar ingredient, he'd swap it into the feed ration instead of the more expensive one.
Over time, he realized that each change led to a drop in productivity for a while, which often resulted in profit losses. In the long run, he found that buying the more expensive ingredient for the sake of consistency actually saved him more money!
This is where EZfeed comes into play, promoting accountability for all those decisions. It doesn't just help coordinate the original decision but also automates the tracking of how those decisions are carried out. In other words, EZfeed helps bridge the gap between deciding and doing by automatically tracking many tasks related to loading and unloading feed.
EZfeed aids in four key areas:
- Tracking the Defined Ration: EZfeed captures the planned dietary ration set for the livestock, ensuring there's a clear baseline to adhere to.
- Tracking the Mixed Ration: It guides feeders during the mixing of the ration and provides tools that help employers compare the mixed ration to the defined ration.
- Tracking the Delivered Ration: EZfeed monitors the ration that's delivered to the livestock, enabling a comparison between the intended and actual delivered feed.
- Tracking the Consumed Ration: Lastly, it can keep a record of the leftover feed, allowing managers to ensure the livestock is receiving the intended nutrition.
Implementing EZfeed starts with entering ingredients and rations into the software using a desktop computer. These rations can then be organized into pre-defined loads, aptly termed 'scripted loads'—meaning a feeder can add, mix, and deliver the ingredients by following a set script.
The scripted loads appear on a synced tablet computer, mounted in the delivery or mixer cab. The feeder initiates the process with a simple touch, and the software takes over. The tablet communicates with the mixer-scale indicator, displaying each ingredient one by one, guiding the feeder step by step. The weight of each ingredient is automatically captured from the mixer scale, providing instant feedback on loading accuracy.
Mixing pauses are also integrated, ensuring consistency by indicating the exact duration an ingredient or load needs to mix before proceeding.
The software tracks all feed-related decisions and changes, providing a comprehensive record for later evaluation. By tracking loading and unloading accuracy and speed, EZfeed promotes transparency throughout the process. With instant feedback on loading and unloading rations, feeders can align their actions with their goals and the objectives of their employer.
Ultimately, EZfeed generates detailed reports and graphs, accessible via the desktop computer or mobile phone, enabling accountability and offering opportunities for further training sessions.
Accountability is like a superpower that triggers positive change and boosts productivity at work. It's not about keeping an eye on every move or micro-managing people. Rather, it's about building trust and encouraging everyone to take personal responsibility for their actions.
Clear communication and leading by example are key to making accountability work. Bosses need to show they're as committed to the goals as they expect their employees to be, and they need to actively support their team's growth. It's also really important to track how we're doing. Tools like EZfeed software can help with this, making it easy to keep track of performance, ensure consistency, and gain important insights.
By creating a work culture where trust, open communication, and personal growth are valued, businesses can really reach their potential and make the workplace a positive, thriving environment.
Learn more about topics like this at the Herd Conference
Schedule these classes during the 2023 Herd & Feed Management Conference to help with accountability on your dairy:
- Session 1: Getting Started with EZfeed: Answering New Users’ Most Common Questions OR Why is my inventory off? Navigating Inventory Questions with EZfeed
- Session 2: Mastering Report Creation Essentials in EZfeed
- Session 4: Perfecting Feed Rations - Reducing Deviation with EZfeed
- Session 6: Optimizing Feed Delivery - An In-depth Guide to EZfeed's Bunk Management Module
- Session 7: From Plan to Practice - Using EZfeed Reports for Optimal Ingredient Usage
Have you worked at a place that encourages this kind of growth?