“You just need to work harder.” This is what some supervisors will say when discovering an employee isn’t performing at the level established by an engineered labor standard. But improving an employee’s performance is rarely that easy. Let’s say you have an associate who is achieving around an 86 percent day in and day out. What’s the best way to handle the situation? The answer will be found in your documented accountability plan. If you don’t have one in place, now’s the time to start.
What Is an Accountability Plan?
At a high level, accountability plans set expectations for both employees and organizations regarding the expected performance levels and the series of actions that will occur if an employee doesn’t meet expectations on an ongoing basis. Many companies have some form of accountability plan in place; however, it may be rough and incomplete. Unfortunately, most haven’t taken the time to document a truly well-thought-out plan that gives them guidance for dealing with employees who aren’t meeting performance standards. Not having a clearly defined accountability plan also leaves policies open to interpretation for both employees and supervisors, and this can lead to biased handling of situations or outcomes.
Accountability plans give supervisors a structure for performing coaching observations at regular intervals and giving performance feedback against accepted labor standards. These plans establish the rules for nonconformance in black and white to ensure consistency and prevent favoritism. They give employees a chance to improve against the standard if they fall behind. Likewise, accountability plans enable supervisors to document employee issues that cannot be corrected with training or second chances. This means there is an official HR paper trail that can protect the company in the event a termination needs to be justified.
When done well, an accountability plan is a key piece in a positive corporate culture and is also instrumental in setting a positive work environment and the foundation for incentive-based pay programs that motivate performance. If you don’t put the time into developing your accountability plan, regularly reviewing the components, and revising it over time, you could face some difficult employee situations or struggle to meet deadlines or customer requests.
Mapping out Your Accountability Plan
The project planning phase of your LMS implementation is the perfect time to map out your accountability plan. But if you’re past that stage, it’s never too late to get the process started. Start by assessing whether you have existing policies regarding absenteeism or safety and match the format of those documents. For example, if you have a five-step plan for handling absenteeism, you may want to mirror this structure so employees find the accountability plan to be a parallel document that effectively reflects the culture they know.
The next step is to consider engineered labor standards if you have them in place. These standards are not included in your accountability plan, but you will include your performance expectations for how employees should perform against them. Regarding the levels of performance you should expect, 4SIGHT recommends setting weekly and daily minimums. For example, 100 percent performance would be the average expected over the week, but 90 percent would be expected by day. This accounts for the fact that employees may have days where they don’t feel well or arrive late due to a flat tire, family emergency, etc. But you don’t want to have a daily standard lower than 90 percent because employees could be incented to work at 115 percent during the first part of the week, expecting to slack off toward the end when they’ve hit their 100 percent average. You want to maintain fairly high performance across your workforce on a regular basis to meet overall supply chain metrics and deal with unexpected events.
Another area of focus for your plan will be determining the right interval for employee observation (perhaps every two or three months) and the steps supervisors will take when associates don’t meet expectations over a certain time frame (maybe six months or a year). For example, you may establish a structure that looks like this:
It is equally important that supervisors evaluate all employees and not just underperformers during the evaluation cycle. A key benefit from this approach of observing a higher-performing associate is supervisors can often recalibrate their expectations of how things should be done and help employees share ideas on what’s working well. It’s also important for supervisors to stay in touch with how activities are performed on the floor to assess employee performance in light of labor standards. They should know how to “walk in an employee’s shoes.”
Your plan should also account for lower performance expectations for new hires and associates learning a new job function. For instance, if someone was a case picker and then becomes a stocking replenisher, there needs to be a progression by week for gains in performance. Perhaps they are at 70 percent by the end of the first week and improve by 5 percent each week thereafter until they reach 100 percent. This could also be defined in hourly increments, meaning that after 80 or 100 hours they would be fully accountable to the standard.
For new hires, you’ll want to establish a 90- or 120-day probationary period during which these associates can become fluent in their jobs. This learning curve should be designed so new employees can reasonably be expected to meet the standard before the probationary period is up but also gives you the opportunity to evaluate them for any red flags that would make a permanent placement unfavorable.
When Should You Complete Your Accountability Plan?
Ideally, you’ll develop your accountability plan as part of your LMS project. Many companies mistakenly think the plan is a simple undertaking that can be thrown together in an afternoon. It’s not. Although the operations team will own the document, you need to involve your HR department to get input on corporate culture, local laws, and other elements that have to be factored in. Start as early as you can. The people and process elements complement the technology in rounding out an optimized distribution strategy.
Keep accountability from becoming a hot button in your operations. 4SIGHT can help you develop your accountability plan to supplement your LMS and engineered labor standards. We’ll be the primer to get you moving on the project by identifying areas to consider and asking the right questions to help you build a fully thought-out plan.