Managing Employee Accountability as an ‘Unofficial’ Supervisor

Employees must trust and believe that there is a fair and accurate process for keeping track of their actions and tying their behavior to real consequences. The first thing they want to know is exactly what a great job, an average job, and a bad job look like in terms of their work – more specifically, they want to know how you their managers measure those standards of performance. After all, if one is going to be held accountable for their actions and there are going to be consequences for them, one would want to know exactly what is expected and required of them.

Employees also want to know that someone is keeping a close eye on them so that nobody misses it when they do a great job. And, they want to ensure that their performance will be measured based on those expectations and requirements that were (ideally) spelled out up front – and on nothing else.

Managers need a fair and accurate process for tying real consequences to each employee’s real actions:

  • Spell out expectations in advance in vivid terms
  • Track employee performance every step of the way
  • Follow through with real consequences based on whether the employee’s actual performance meets those expectations or not

Sometimes, however, in a busy atmosphere such as a restaurant, employees who are not usually considered “managers” or “supervisors” are deputized in order to help assist the “real” manager when there’s a lot going on. Sometimes this an unspoken role – that one employee in particular always acts as assistant to such-and-such manager. Sometimes, an employee is being considered for a management position, but is taking on some unofficial duties in the meantime to test the waters.

In any these cases, the deputized employee does not have direct authority. So, what do they do? Their only option is to use influence to hold their fellows accountable. What are the potential sources of this influence?

First, draw on interpersonal influence; that is, the accumulated weight of your relationship with the person you are managing, as well as other relationships you have on the team. Have you had personal rapport with this person in the past? Will you have personal rapport in the future? Do you have the potential to influence the opinion of someone they’re keen to impress?

Second, influence people through the persuasiveness of good reasons. One “unofficial” manager once told me she has to depend every day on people who do not answer to her in any formal way. So, if someone is giving her a hard time or needs a little convincing, she makes them answer to her strong logic: “I never ask for anything without making a convincing case for why it is necessary, if I can. I’m always selling: ‘This is why you should do this for me. This is why it’s a good thing for you, your team, and your company. This is why you should put my request first. This is why nothing else should get in the way.’ I know I’m pushy, but the reason it works is that they are persuaded by my logic that they really should do what I’m asking them to do.”

Third, draw on transactional influence. If you reach an agreement with a person, then you have reason to expect that agreement will be fulfilled. This is especially true of mutual reciprocal promises. Even if you elicit a one-way promise from another person, if it has sufficient specificity, there is great pressure on the person to delivery on that promise. Have you relied on each other in the past? Will you rely on each other in the future?

Fourth, ask yourself, even if you don’t have explicit authority in the relationship, are there consequences you can impose, if necessary? Are there any rewards or detriments in your direct or indirect control?