Build Your Business:

Tips for an Accountable Staff

July 11, 2016

Are you frustrated by your employees’ failure to meet stated goals, make deadlines or keep to an on-time production schedule?

Following are five tips for pushing your crew to have a better, more efficient mindset and deliver the accountability your shop needs to grow.

1. Absolute Expectations
One of the things that I most often find in shops is that there really isn’t much communication regarding specific expectations. You should be crystal clear at all times regarding your desired final outcome, how success will be defined, the target date for completion and how your crew should handle the task.

Just to be clear, this should be a conversation, not an edict handed down from Mount Olympus. Quit throwing lightning bolts. That style of management doesn’t foster any love from the troops.

In fact, the more you discuss the challenge that’s ahead with your crew, the better you’ll understand the roadblocks that could affect whether they can meet your goal. Strategize how things should happen. Develop the plan together.
For example, let’s say that a 5,000-piece, three-location order is coming in. Your sales staff just landed the deal. The order has to ship next Friday. The schedule is already packed, so how is production going to pull this one off? Is crossing your fingers your idea of a plan? Taking the time to have the dialog about this order is the best thing you can do.

Getting the orders for two of the locations produced might not be much of an issue; but finalizing the third in the time needed could be the challenge. Other orders may already be booked on the schedule, but a closer look might reveal that the client has two smaller orders that are just for stock replenishment. By contacting the customer, you may be able to get them to agree that the third location can jump ahead of these in production so it can ship on time.

By having the conversation with your production team regarding the order, you’ve established clear expectations regarding the job and have worked out a plan to resolve the potential scheduling roadblock. Also, by pushing the expectations onto the client and requesting some help with the production schedule issue, you’ve deflected part of the challenge back onto them for resolution. Everyone is happier because they were included in the solution. 

2. Absolute Capacity
Having an understanding of capacity is crucial to establishing a culture of accountability. Can the person do the task correctly? Do they have the skill, training or talent needed? Do they have the correct tools or equipment, and are they in working order? Is there adequate time to complete the task as defined? Do they even like or want the job they are doing? Are there any challenges in their way that could affect the outcome? 

These are important points to review when defining a goal. Otherwise, you are setting the person or department up for failure.

In the order example mentioned above, what happens if the client is late approving the artwork or 576 size-medium shirts don’t arrive until two business days past the expected date due to inventory shortages with the distributor? Can you still hold your production team accountable? Shouldn’t the expectations for them change due to the new circumstances?

Your shop’s capacity needs to be detailed in terms of a minimal daily production level. All things considered, what do you normally output on average in a given day? When you start moving towards that number or far surpass it, it’s time to talk to your team.

Production gets backed up because the sales team overbooks your shop like an airline that sells all the seats and more. Without some action to obtain more capacity, jobs will ship late. This means more overtime, outsourcing jobs to contractors or changing the expectations on when jobs will be produced by moving ship dates. If you only have the capacity to produce 15,000 impressions a day, what happens when you have to produce 18,000? Something has to give to keep everything on time. A good trick is to constantly be doing things early across all departments. 

3. Absolute Measurement
Are you measuring things in your shop? Quality control can be measured by keeping track of misprints and the cost of credits to the customer. Your production speed can be measured with simple production logs. Your production schedule can be measured by looking at on-time shipping. Downtime can be measured by tracking the time it takes to take down and set up a new job. Sales can be measured by measuring the total dollar amount. Profit can be measured by defining your margin per job.

Why should you measure? Taking the time to obtain the data gives you the information needed to make adjustments and understand the relationships between the actions in your business. Think of it like a speedometer in your car. Without a speedometer, how fast are you really going? You can guess based on experience behind the wheel, but does that help you avoid a speeding ticket?

Measuring the things that matter to your shop helps you define what are called the Key Performance Indicators, or KPIs. KPIs can tell you if you are on the right track or not, and if you need to make any adjustments along the way.
For our order example we’ve been discussing, if the 5,000-piece, three-location job has to ship on Friday, one benchmark might be that the first location has to be completed by Tuesday afternoon; the second by Wednesday afternoon; and the third by Thursday afternoon. That way, the job will ship on Friday. If everyone is clear on the objective, and your production team is measuring their work, you’ll know if the job is going to ship on Friday as the order progresses.

Always clearly define the goal, set up and agree on some milestones that need to be achieved, and stop and discuss the progress along the way. You can always adjust.

4. Absolute Feedback
People need to know where they stand. Ambushing a staff member with a long list of missed goals is an unprofessional way to run a business. 

A better method is to deliver clear, open feedback continually based on facts, not opinions. Build your shop KPIs for your key staff members. Discuss with them the things that matter, and together, define the target they need to reach.

If you define absolute expectations, current capacity and measurements, then giving feedback will be easy. Make time for conversation with your employees at least twice a month, and ask for their feedback as well. What do they need to help achieve their goals? That’s what you want to hear. Are the current results what they expected? If not, what do you need to do to achieve them?

Having regular discussions on how the business is operating with the leadership of the company helps keep the train on the tracks. This also applies to your staff. Frequent informal chats about their work really helps with engagement, building a culture of performance and ferreting out problems.

5. Absolute Consequences

Why are you doing all of this? It’s to create actionable accountability. The goal is to raise the bar with your staff, and if you have been pushing the first four definitions above — expectations, capacity, measurement and feedback — then the consequences mode is easier to manage.

This is where a lot of shops fail, and why they don’t have a culture of accountability. Owners are afraid to let go of non-performing staff.

The consequences portion of accountability can be segmented into three actionable points: repeat, reward or release.

“Repeat” is the idea is that there are ongoing goals that a person or group is working to achieve. It is important to repeat the steps above and have the feedback conversation on a regular basis.

A “reward” should follow positive results. This could be a monetary incentive such as a bonus or raise. This also can just be a simple pat on the back or public praise. 

The “release” piece is where most shop managers or owners fall short. It doesn’t necessarily mean terminating them from employment. Releasing also could be just simply moving them from one area to another.

Does your shop struggle with accountability issues? If your answer is yes, then it’s time to get your team together, discuss your weaknesses and push for change.

Marshall Atkinson is the owner of Atkinson Consulting LLC, a service firm focused on the decorated apparel industry for process improvement and efficiency, sustainability, employee training, social media marketing and long-term strategic planning. For more information or to comment on this article, email Marshall at, or follow his blog at