“How do I get my team to be more accountable for results?”
“I’m frustrated by the low quality work being done – and it doesn’t help that it’s often late.”
“How can I stop micro-managing when they keep dropping the ball?”
Can you relate to any of these accountability-related challenges I often hear from the executives and leaders I coach?
What is accountability anyway?
Accountability means being both responsible and answerable for our actions. Our challenge as leaders is to hold people accountable in a way that both challenges and supports them.
Here’s a check-list of questions you can ask yourself in service of increasing your team’s sense of accountability…
1. HAVE I MADE IT CLEAR EXACTLY WHO’S ACCOUNTABLE?
I can recall a project I once assigned to a group of three individuals. I may as well not have assigned it to anyone, given the level of accountability that I created. Human nature has us feel less accountable when the load is shared by others.
When we make it clear which one person “owns” a task or project, we create the possibility for real ownership.
2. ARE MY EXPECTATIONS CLEAR?
Often when our expectations weren’t met, it’s because we didn’t clearly articulate those expectations in the first place.
Being crystal clear about what we expect is critical – establishing exactly what success will look like, what timing is expected, and what milestones are expected along the way. Having a specific two-way dialogue about this allows you to ensure you’re on the same page while providing the opportunity to discuss any concerns. This sets a person up for success right from the beginning.
3. AM I PROVIDING ON-GOING FEEDBACK?
“I assigned it three months ago and I’m curious to see what she’s going to come up with by the deadline this week.” Well, this approach might turn out OK. But imagine how helpful it might have been to agree with the person on milestones and check-in points along the way. At “worst” check-ins are a chance to celebrate great progress to date. At best, they’re a chance to reaffirm your expectations, provide necessary feedback, and help the person course-correct, as needed.
Staying aware about what’s going on without taking over can go a long way to increasing the sense of accountability a person feels.
4. HAVE I PUT APPROPRIATE CONSEQUENCES IN PLACE?
If all goes well, the “consequence” can be acknowledgement and maybe even an eventual promotion.
It’s when things don’t go as planned that it can get tricky for some leaders. You may have heard the expression “you teach people how to treat you.” In the face of non-performance, when we consistently “let it go” or end up “making it right” ourselves we’re sending a message. The message is that performance doesn’t matter. The way we respond to a person’s non-performance in one situation can inform and teach them how to handle the next situation.
So what do we do in the face of non-performance? It depends. If it’s clearly a “one-off” and the person is owning the issue (also known as being accountable), a quick re-alignment on expectations may be enough.
If it’s a pattern, more investment of time and effort is required. Helping the person get to the root of what’s getting in the way of their performance is important. Then the appropriate corrective actions can follow. For example: setting up more check-ins in future, providing more resources or training, or ultimately, having a conversation to clarify role expectations and ensuring there’s a good fit with their role.