Change Your Mindset on Accountability
“I’ve written down the rules, now people better follow them.”
“If people don’t do what they’re supposed to, there will be consequences.”
“I told him he needs to get better results next time.”
“If I fire one or two people, the rest will get in line.”
These are all phrases I’ve heard from business leaders over the years, but is this really what ‘accountability’ is about? Does it begin with “do it or else” and end with “good-bye”? In my experience, waving a stick at employees is a good way to get them to leave. Further, if you wave that stick too much, your quality employees exit right alongside your underperformers. There is a time and place for a respectful version of the “do it or else” conversation. However, be certain you’ve administered healthy doses of positive accountability before you try more negative approaches.
To me, accountability is about showing respect and valuing employees. It’s not harsh to hold people accountable. In fact, it’s a respectful way to treat them like adults. When we hold people accountable in a positive way, we show them the work they do is important, and that they can be a valuable part of the team.
To get results, employee engagement, and a positive culture, it’s important to lead with DEEP accountability.
Demonstrate personal accountability
Empower the employee to develop an action plan
Push for progress
To lead with positive accountability, you must first hold yourself accountable. You do this by exploring what things you could have done differently to ensure your employee met their performance goals. Did you give them enough training? Did you make your expectations clear? Did you explain the type of behavior you wanted to see? Did you demonstrate those behaviors with your own actions?
Once you’ve demonstrated personal accountability, then you can shift the focus to your employee’s accountability. You do this having them identify any barriers to meeting their performance goals, then asking them what they can do to remove those barriers. This allows you to eliminate excuses early and empower your employees.
Years ago, I was leading a project management team, and one of the projects was falling behind. I started by asking the project manager whether he needed any help from me getting the project back on track.
The conversation went something like this:
Me: It looks like the System project is behind schedule. What kind of challenges are you experiencing?
Mike: I can’t get the business to nail down the requirements. Every time we ask them to approve the requirements with the changes they’ve just asked for, they decide to change things again.
Me: Why do you think that keeps happening? (Notice how I’m guiding him through the problem-solving process by asking him to identify the root cause)
Mike: I don’t think they understand how their changes impact the workflow.
Me: What do you think you can do help them understand that better?
Mike: I suppose we could ask the vendor for a demo.
Me: Great! What else?
Mike: Probably a flow chart would help, then we could edit the chart with them and show them how their changes will impact the workflow. (At this point Mike begins to get more energized, he’s excited about making improvements)
Me: Awesome! What can I do to help?
From here we nailed down action steps and deadlines for each of us. We discussed progress each week until the project wrapped up – on time. Using DEEP accountability, I showed Mike that he is valuable because it’s in his power to keep projects on track. I empowered him to find a solution, and I offered him my support.
DEEP accountability creates an engaged team of problem-solvers that isn’t afraid of accountability. And because you’ve already addressed excuses, if you get to the point that you need to have the “or else” conversation, it tends to go more smoothly.
Since I’ve started using DEEP accountability, even when I’ve had to term a staff member, they have thanked me roughly 75% of the time for doing my part to get their performance on track. That’s what comes of respectful accountability. You earn the respect of your employees.
Accountability isn’t mean, it doesn’t have to be “tough,” and it shouldn’t begin with finger pointing. DEEP accountability is respectful and empowering, and when you approach employees with this mindset, you create a positive culture focused on achieving excellence.
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