Have you got the accountability factor?

One of the issues I hear most consistently from leaders, managers, and supervisors is their daily struggle to hold staff members and teams accountable for performance or values. One senior leader recently told me.  “It’s so hard to hold people accountable when you’ve known them for years and years. I just wish they’d do what they said they’d do!” This is the accountability factor.

I spent 15 years as a non-profit executive and I experienced the same struggles. During that time, I believed that:

  • My staff members should know what they are supposed to do.
  • They should be committed to doing it, and
  • What the heck is going on now? They’re not delivering and I’m frustrated.

The reality is that, unless you proactively manage consequences, you are not leading. You are creating chaos.

Consequence management

Your credibility as a leader or a team member is maintained, day by day, when you do what you say you will do. For example, if you announce that, from this point forward, every team member will be expected to demonstrate our team’s valued behaviours, you have set a standard. Educating team members about desired valued behaviours is important. However, without accountability, those valued behaviours are just one more set of expectations that your employees can ignore.

Consequence management means that you respond to others’ actions. Let’s look at this “values standard” scenario for a moment. You’ve announced desired values and behaviours – but, without consequences, those standards are not yet real.

You must proactively praise those who demonstrate desired valued behaviours (provide positive consequences). You must coach/redirect those who do not demonstrate desired valued behaviours (provide negative consequences). You’re not angry. You simply, non-judgmentally, apply earned consequences.

If the standards you set are not real, then your team members cannot trust your word, your feedback, your coaching, or your direction. The result is chaos.

One of my best bosses, Jerry Nutter, helped me learn that accountability is not that complicated. Jerry taught me that holding people accountable involves three steps. All of which is the leader’s responsibility.

Three Steps to Consistent Accountability

1. Clear Expectations

Begin by formalizing your expectations. Describe the outcome in specific terms: “Your goal is to reduce waste on your team’s shift by 10% by the end of the month.” Formalize the expectation in writing (hard copy or electronic. Whichever works for you and your team members.
This step isn’t finished until you gain agreement from the responsible player to meet or exceed the expectation.

2. Proactive Observation

Seek information about your team member’s performance on that expectation. Take the time to watch your team members working on the goal or task. Create feedback channels so that the team member’s key internal and external customers can provide you with their perceptions about the goal or task delivery (or progress). Ask those customers to provide you with their perceptions of the team member’s valued behaviours. Do they see this player modelling the organization’s values? Gather and review these data points so you will be confident of the team member’s current delivery on performance and values expectations.

3. Consequence Management

Apply the appropriate consequences. If the team member is doing what s/he committed to doing and living your values while doing so, praise, encourage, and reward the team, member. If the team member is not doing what they committed to doing in the way you’ve agreed team members will behave, engage them in a conversation to understand why progress has not been made. One consideration: in most organizations, leaders and employees alike believe they are not praised or encouraged regularly. There are a lot of good things that players do every day. Be sure to praise and encourage legitimate progress towards goal accomplishment. Encourage embracing your team’s values. If you are seen as a leader who praises and encourages regularly – as well as coaches and redirects when that’s needed – you will go a long way towards creating mutual trust and respect.

If you struggle with holding staff members accountable, try this approach. Give it time and stay committed to this accountability strategy. Over time, your staff will learn that when you say something, you mean it.  You will hold them accountable for their agreements. Your employees will be more satisfied, your customers will receive higher-quality products and services from your team. You will not “should” yourself to an early grave!

Do people keep their promises and honour their commitments without consequence management in your company?

  • About the Author
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S. Chris Edmonds is a speaker, author, and executive consultant. He shares insights on organizational culture, servant leadership, employee engagement, and workplace inspiration.

He writes books and articles and records podcasts.

In his free time, he’s a working musician with the Brian Raine band in Denver, CO.