5 Tips for Better Shop Staff Accountability


Are you frustrated by your employees lack of achieving stated goals, missing deadlines or keeping to an on-time production schedule?  Your people promise things and then don’t deliver.  Mistakes keep happening and the only answer is a lame shrug of the shoulders. The year is already half over and most of the top goals that you set in December or January aren’t even started yet.  You name it.  There is a problem.

Some days you just want to pull your hair out.  

Here are five tips that you can use to push your crew into a better, more efficient mindset that delivers the accountability your shop needs to grow.  Get some actionable change started today!

Absolute Expectations

One of the things that I most often find in shops is that there really isn’t much communication regarding specific expectations around a particular subject.  You should be crystal clear at all times regarding the final outcome that’s needed, how success will be defined, the target date for completion, and how your crew should work on the task that needs to be handled.

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 for you from the troops.

In fact, the more you discuss the challenge that’s ahead with your crew, the better you’ll understand their roadblocks that exist that could affect achieving the goal.  It’s the conversation that really matters.  Strategize how things should happen.  Develop the plan together.  Discuss what is needed in order for the goal to be achieved in the timeline you’ve set or that’s needed.

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?  Do you normally just push this one out there and hope that they can figure it out?  Is crossing your fingers is your idea of a plan?  “Oh, they’ll get it done.”  But when they don’t, it’s a scream-a-thon with finger pointing and name calling.

Taking the time to have the dialog about this order is the best thing you can do.

As it turns out, getting two of the locations produced won’t be much of an issue; but finalizing the third in the time needed is really the major challenge.  The problem is that it looks like other orders are already booked on the schedule, and really can’t be moved.  The solution: upon a deeper dive the same client has two smaller orders that are just for stock replenishment.  After contacting the customer, they agree that the third location can jump ahead of these in production so it can ship on time, and the two that are being moved will only get bumped by two working days max.

By having the conversation with your production team regarding the order, you’ve established clear expectations regarding the job, the fact that it can be produced without any overtime and still ship as written on the PO, 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.  We’re all in this together!  It is the teamwork approach to discussing expectations that is going to move mountains and keep you on track.

Everyone is happier because they were included in the solution.  The best part is that the absolute expectations regarding the order were comprehended and met.

Absolute Capacity

Having an understanding of capacity is crucial to establishing the culture of accountability that you seek.  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?  

This is an important point to review when defining a goal.  Otherwise, you are setting the person or department up for failure if there are problems that stand in their way.

In our example above, what happens if the client is late approving the artwork or 576 Mediums 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?

On another note, shouldn’t the expectations from the customer be defined when the art needs to be approved to hit their target ship date?  Shouldn’t the inventory arrival date be defined at order entry by checking with the distributors on when the goods will show up so production can plan better?  You can get tracking information, so it shouldn’t be a surprise.

Important tip: Your shop’s capacity needs to be detailed better regarding a minimal daily production level.  All things considered, what do you normally output as an average on any given day?  When you start moving towards that or far surpass it, there needs to be a group discussion about what’s going on.  The earlier the better.

Why does production get so backed up?  Because sales overbooks the capacity like an airline and 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, in all departments.  “If you aren’t early, you are running late.”

Having good communication between your front office and shop leadership helps keep everything on track.  If you have a shop operating system, having everyone update their share of the tasks immediately and include great notes in the system pushes this idea farther down the road too.

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.  Accounts receivable can be measured as to how much money or clients are over 30 days in arrears.

Why should you measure anything?  Simple.  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, as experience behind the wheel of the car can tell you if you are ok or not.  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 KPI’s.  KPI’s can tell you if you are on the right track or not, and if you need to make any adjustments along the way.

Benchmarking or defining some landmarks helps you define any goal that you might be working on.

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.

What frustrates most leaders is when Friday rolls around and the order is only half completed.  “Why didn’t you say something?” they ask.  It can become a heated argument.  Sound familiar?  If you have a shop operating system that allows you to mark each location as being completed, then anyone in the building can look up the order and see the progress.  This is how you have effective communication and root out problems.

A better method to run your shop  is always to 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.  This is for any task, in any department.

Absolute Feedback

People need to know where they stand.  Ambushing a staff member with a long list of things they haven’t achieved on some metrics they didn’t even know about is a unprofessional way to run a business.  Just don’t do it.

A better method is to deliver clear, open feedback continually based on facts, not opinions.  Build your shop KPI’s 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 the feedback part with your staff will be easy to do.  Everyone will be on the same page, and actually looking forward to the conversations as this helps foster a better working environment.

These conversations are gold.  You absolutely have to make time for them, at least twice a month.  Also, it is more important for you to hear feedback from your staff than it is for them to hear your opinions on them.

This is where you can help them more by establishing a trusting atmosphere and removing roadblocks to their success.  What do they need to help achieve their goals?  That’s what you want to hear.  Are the current results what was expected?  If not, what do you need to do to achieve them?

Lots of shops go months on end without having any meaningful conversations.  “We’re too busy”.  Then, when it matters most, there is a lot of angst and built up frustrations that snake out of the darkness.  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.

Absolute Consequences

Why are you doing all of this?  It’s to create actionable accountability.  This means as you are building and defining your shop culture you need to be moving people forward in how they perform.  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 can become 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 because they like them.  Managers are afraid of making a change because no one else is trained in that job yet.  Your employees do what they want because the tiger doesn’t have any teeth.  Same old story as before.

However, if you are doing the first four points in this article, the actionable end can be easier.

The consequences part of accountability can be segmented into three actionable points:

Repeat, Reward or Release.

For the Repeat mode, the idea is that this is an ongoing goal that a person or group is working to achieve.  For this, you just repeat everything above and have the feedback conversation on a regular basis.

For example, let’s say you want a press crew to average 400 impressions per hour for everything they print and to keep their defect rate under 1% of all impressions printed.  Lately, they’ve been averaging about 380 impressions per hour, and they have had some trouble with misprints, especially on tri-blends which seem to scorch more than they should.  In your discussion, you outline some steps that they can implement to achieve the production rate goal, and also help define some tips on keeping their defect rate down; particularly with tri-blends.  You will use the production logs to measure, and keep track daily on their results.  You will meet again in a week and discuss the results.  (Remember, no backsliding…keep meeting with the crew on a regular basis afterwards, even if the goal has been reached.)

Rewards are obvious.  For positive results you want to be championing that result by making a big deal about it.  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.  “Press Two increased their production numbers by 33% last week, and had zero misprints!”  Without benchmarking progress though, how will you know that there is any improvement?  This is where using obtained data and building the mindset of measuring your KPI’s will pay off.

Finally, there’s the Release mode.  Here’s where most shop managers or owners fail.  Everything points to a decision that’s a hard conversation to make, and they just avoid it.  Maybe the staff member has worked for you for a long time and you like them personally.  Your gut tells you that something needs to be done, but you can’t do it.  Will anything ever change then?  You may be doomed to having the same conversations year after year after year.

Releasing could also be just simply moving them from one area to another.  It doesn’t necessarily mean terminating them from employment.  In our press crew example above, maybe it is determined the reason the press crew can’t hit their 400 impression an hour and 1% defect rate is that the press puller can’t keep up, and constantly has fold overs on the belt when pulling shirts.  You work with the crew member for a bit and try to help train him into obtaining more skill, but it isn’t working.  He’s a good worker, but on this part of the job he’s just struggling with constantly.  Rotating him with another worker that wants to learn how to become a press operator is something worth trying before you just simply fire the guy.  You are releasing him from this one responsibility, but giving him another one to learn.  He might make a great shipping clerk if given the opportunity.

To wrap up: does your shop struggle with accountability issues?  Are expectation targets being clearly defined before something has to happen?  Do people have the capacity to achieve the goals?  Does your shop possess a means to measure the success, and the ability to make that transparent to the people that need to know where they stand?  Are the people that are tasked to complete the goals getting feedback often on the progress towards the goal?  At the end of the day, is the leadership making the tough decisions regarding repeating, rewarding or releasing staff members regarding their achievements?

If you’ve answered yes to all of the above, then you are working in a great shop with a fantastic culture.

If you’ve answered no to any of the above, then you have some work cut out for you.  Get your team together and discuss your weaknesses and push for change.

You can do it!


  • This is one of the best posts I’ve read here as it hits close to home. We’ve had these problems in the past and are now working on all of them.

    I’ve spent the bigger part of a year trying to have that “consequences” conversation with a key staff member. I finally did and it didn’t work out with him so I let him go. Interesting part is I thought we would totally fail without him as we had a lot of difficulties hiring for that position BUT as we train 2 persons for each position, we had someone already trained to step up and the difference is night and day. Only had to hire someone to train again (as it turns out we managed to get someone who already knew to run the press). We changed procedures and are working twice as fast now, with better quality and A LOT better work environment with all the crew.

    Conversations might be painful and you might see dark times ahead but there’s a lot of opportunities if you make a change. I could’ve lost a few members of my staff had I not let go that one person. We’re up 20% this year, with no delays in shipping and no need to outsource anything anymore.

    • Jorge, thanks for reading and commenting! I’m glad that you’ve solved your problems with that employee. Often, managers or owners don’t take action because they are worried about “what will happen without” that person. Glad it worked out for you. -M

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