Accountability in the workplace doesn’t just happen. You have to create it and consistently monitor and manage it.
One of the most challenging areas for any organization is to build a culture where commitment and accountability are the norm, rather than the exception. Organizations want employees not to make excuses, point fingers at others and when they make a mistake to admit they did. So often leaders ask me “how can I get people to be accountable” and I respond the same way all the time…it starts with you. Accountability isn’t just for employees, it starts at the top both with the actions/behavior the leader displays, and how they hold people accountable (or not as is often the case).
In organizations today we see an endless cycle of blame and justification. In order to overcome this unproductive cycle, leaders must stop letting people skate on accountability. Sounds easy so why don’t leaders do it and hold people accountable?
Leaders make a few assumptions that are incorrect.
- They believe that employees are adults and most will be accountable for their actions. This is simply not true.
- Leaders assume there is an explicit expectation attached to their role…I’m the boss and so of course you will do what I ask and say.
- Leaders believe that the lack of accountability is the employee’s fault and they are not the problem.
All of these assumptions not only are false, they interfere with leaders taking the necessary actions to create a culture of accountability, and have the conversations when people aren’t being accountable.
What prevents leaders from holding people accountable?
- Fear of losing talent. When a leader is worried that if they make strong requests and hold someone accountable the employee will leave they often avoid the conversations around accountability.
- Think they do and not realize they aren’t. Telling someone what you want them to do is not holding them accountable, any more than yelling at them when they don’t is.
- Avoidance. If a leader sees accountability as a negative or punitive then of course they ignore accountability discussions.
- Lazy. Having discussions around accountability and creating a culture where people are accountable is time consuming and requires patience and a willingness to keep at it. One conversation won’t do it and many leaders are simply lazy and don’t want to take the time.
How do you get people accountable?
It starts with ensuring you have gained the other person’s commitment. You cannot hold anyone accountable until you are certain they have committed to your request. In order to gain commitment start with these tips.
- Deliver a clear message with defined goals and outcomes. Saying I want this by tomorrow is vague and leaves it open to interpretation. Telling someone to send a document to a client won’t get you the results you want. By when do they send the document, clarity about what document and in what format. Do you want them to follow up to ensure the client received it and by when.
- State the conditions of satisfaction. Give clear parameters of what you want, by when and how they will know they have met your expectations. I have a client who told their employee to fix a document before sending to a client because it was inconsistent. The employee had no idea what was inconsistent and what the manager wanted them to do. You don’t have to put to the exact line in the document but you do need to provide enough specifics so they can perform to your standards.
- Don’t make assumptions they understand. Just because you provided all the information including timelines does not mean the other person understands or even has agreed to complete the task. You must ask them what they will be doing so you can learn if they understand and if they agree to handle. Assuming that because you ask they are committed will only have you disappointed and frustrated.
- Discuss the problem as it occurs. When a deadline is missed or something not handled properly stick to the facts, keep your emotions out of it and have the conversation in a timely manner. Yelling, blaming, sending nasty emails, ignoring the problem or bringing it up weeks later will not prevent it from recurring.
Most people want to do a good job. They want to perform well and be valued for their contribution. In order for them to perform well leaders have to set the expectations of what they want, being as specific as possible, by when they want it and provide as much information as reasonable to help others learn. It also means leaders can’t simply ignore it when they aren’t getting the results they want or yell, scream and holler thinking that will change someone’s behavior. Accountability starts with the leadership in any organization. It includes clarity about your message and what you want, and it includes the leaders being accountable to the development and growth of their team through continued communication about what’s working well, and when the result wasn’t as expected.