What Would You Do?

Steven Cesare, Ph.D.



A business owner from Arizona called me the other day to talk about accountability. Like most owners, at his core, he really wants more accountability throughout his company. He just wants his employees, business partners, vendors, etc. to be accountable for their actions. Accountability is the universal driver of results. Unfortunately, accountability is increasingly rare in today’s work settings. Don’t you agree?

In response, companies typically implement performance management systems to increase the likelihood accountability will occur more often. One aspect of performance management is employee discipline (e.g., informal coaching, verbal warning, written reprimand, suspension, and termination). Please review the following real-world scenarios and decide what degree of discipline you would recommend to improve employee accountability in your organization.

  • An owner learns that one of his Branch Managers has repeatedly forged several employee signatures on numerous administrative documents (e.g., forms, employee write-ups, employee documentation).
  • During a walk-through, an owner notices a sizable patch of stressed turf due to several broken irrigation heads. The owner directs an Irrigator to resolve the issue by the next day. Two days later, the owner has a follow-up telephone call with the Irrigator to verify the irrigation heads are working correctly. The Irrigator assures the owner, the issue was resolved the previous day. A week later, the owner repeats the client walk-through and notices the same irrigation heads are still broken. When asked by the owner why the problem was not fixed, the Irrigator says he did not get around to it.
  • During a meeting, a business owner instructs a Project Manager to retrieve a document located on the desk in the owner’s office. While in the office, the Project Manager notices all the company employee salaries listed on the owner’s computer screen. The Project Manager writes down the employees’ salaries, and then shares that information with other employees over the next couple of days.
  • Due to customer comments about poor job quality, a business owner contacts the Account Manager via telephone. Upon hearing the feedback, the Account Manager replies angrily “Well if you think you can do a better job, maybe you should run the job instead of me!” and immediately hangs up the phone.
  • Due to recent rainfall, a very tall tree loses its root foundation causing it to tilt onto a high-tension wire telephone pole. Informed of the situation via telephone, the Account Manager explicitly directs the Foreman to call the local utility company to resolve the issue safely; the Foreman agrees. Once that phone call ends, the Foreman directs his crew to hurl a nylon rope around the tree to leverage it off the telephone pole. As the crew members pull on the rope, it breaks, leading the tree to reposition from the telephone pole onto the actual high-tension lines. The tension lines break instantaneously due to the weight of the tree, producing a “hot line” sparking and moving erratically on the resident’s property.
  • An injured Tree Crew Leader is told to stay home until he receives authorization from the workers’ compensation clinic. The next day, unbeknownst to the owner, the disobedient Crew Leader reports to work late, and drives a company truck to the job site, where he gets into the bucket lift and begins to trim a tree. Minutes later he experiences vertigo; his peers help him to reach the ground. Immediately informed, the business owner instructs the Crew Leader via telephone to take an Uber home. Instead, the Crew Leader drives the company vehicle back to the yard, while running over a fire hydrant enroute, doing extensive damage to the truck. He parks the truck in the yard and begins his two-week vacation.
  • A Branch Manager takes a company vehicle from Los Angeles to Las Vegas for the weekend.
  • A Field Supervisor renowned as being invaluable to the company since he is extremely adept at recruiting high-performing employees, is found to have created five phantom employees for four months. After each weekly payroll run, the Field Supervisor takes the phantom employees’ checks to the local bank, forges their signatures, co-signs the checks, and keeps the money.

Oh, by the way, none of the employees was terminated for the actions committed in these scenarios.

Would your answers regarding recommended discipline be different if the employee in each scenario was the owner’s son? Would your answers be different if the employee in each scenario was female, transgender, homosexual, a minority, pregnant, diabetic, or recently released from a worker’s compensation claim?

Speaking of accountability, who in your organization holds you accountable to drive accountability?

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Steve Cesare Ph.D.

has more than 25 years of Human Resources experience. Prior to joining The Harvest Group, Steve worked with Bemus Landscape, Jack in the Box, the County of San Diego, Citicorp, and NASA. Steve earned his Ph.D. in Industrial/Organizational Psychology from Old Dominion University, and has authored 68 human resources journal articles. As a member of The Harvest Group, Steve’s areas of expertise include: staffing, legal compliance, wage and hour issues, training, and employee safety.  Read Steve's full bio.