"A culture of discipline is not a principle of business; it is a principle of greatness." ~Jim Collins

"Trying to get everyone to like you is a sign of mediocrity." ~Colin Powell

One of the biggest struggles in leadership is the need to hold a team accountable for their actions and your expectations. Most leaders expect the best from their team and often will even project their own sense of responsibility and work ethic on their team. They want to be the positive and supportive boss of everyone’s dreams. This is always a great thing to do from a motivation and empowerment standpoint, but it can fail if you don’t back it up with accountability.

Many leaders fail at holding their team accountable because of a number of reasons:

·         They fear that they will be perceived as a micromanager

·         They aren’t comfortable with conflict

·         They hope the person will self-correct

·         They simply can’t understand why someone wouldn’t behave like they would in the same situation

·         They don’t know how to have the conversation

The thing that surprises most leaders is that employees want their leaders to hold them, and their co-workers, accountable. Your team wants a level playing field where they know that their co-workers are being held to the same standards as everyone else. Holding a team accountable also ensures that there is a level of recognition in place, which is critical to your team’s ongoing motivation.

So regardless of the reason and motivation for the lack of accountability, how do you do it in a way that doesn’t bring any of the fears into reality?

The Foundation

Set clear expectations - Where most accountability initiatives go wrong is that they don’t set a clear foundation of expectations. This allows the grey area and “wiggle room” to take over and opens the floor up to excuses. If you are able to get crystal clear on the expectations of each individual, then the rest of accountability gets much easier.

Get buy-in – Before you set the expectations in stone, it’s important that you get the feedback of all of those involved. This has the effect of giving you as much information as possible surrounding the expectation (so that you can make the best decision possible), ensures that the employee is clear on what is expected, and gives them a better sense of ownership which helps drive the desired result.

Track progress – One of the best ways to write an insurance policy that your expectations will be met is to publicly track progress. When the team can come in every morning and see the results of the day prior and where those results stand in regards to the expectation it brings even more awareness to the issue.

The Feedback

When you have the foundation in place you have a shared understanding of what needs to be done and that provides a much firmer and easier basis to have a conversation if the expectations are not being met. One of the big reasons is that if you have done all of the above, this isn’t the first conversation you’ve had regarding the topic. You had it when you solicited buy-in, and you’ve had it with the regular updates on progress. It can’t be stated enough how much easier the conversations go with this in place.

With all that being said, it can still be difficult for leaders to know exactly how to have the conversation about missed expectations. Below are some key points to keep you from making any common mistakes and to keep the discussion on track:

·         Focus on the issue – Everyone in the room knows who isn’t meeting expectations, so there is no need to make the person further defensive by making it personal. Deal with the issue, the shortfall, and what to do to get back to where everything needs to be. Keep it constructive.

·         Use specific examples – If you don’t have them ready, then I guarantee that they will be asked for by an employee looking for an “out.” And besides, if you don’t have specifics, what are you talking about?

·         Timely – Feedback needs to be given as soon as possible to the issue being discussed. This is a general rule for all feedback, but is even more important when dealing with expectations as every day that the employee is falling short is one more reason that they might call out that the expectation isn’t that important (otherwise you would have mentioned it right away).

·         Consistent – The most powerful benefit of holding everyone accountable is the trust that it fosters amongst the team and towards you. Consistently enforcing expectations let’s everyone know that there is a fair playing field.

·         Discreet – Praise in public and reprimand in private. The other aspect of trust is that you will address issues without embarrassing the team member.

These guidelines get ahead of some of the most common problems you will face when having the conversation with your team member. Tackle the foundation and address these and you will have taken huge strides forward in easily holding employees accountable.

The Maintenance

As with most everything in leadership there are always refinements to an existing process that should be made to make it even better.

Administer consequences – While we would all like to think that all of the above would address any shortfall in expectations, we know that won’t always be the case. After some conversations the next step is to start with consequences for falling short. It is imperative when speaking of consequences that you address two things; the employee must clearly understand each of the consequences well before the next infraction and administering of consequences, and you must apply the consequences consistently across the entire team when necessary.

Evaluate effectiveness – Even with all of the above, you may still not get the results you are after. Or perhaps you just feel like you can do better. It’s important that you routinely look at your own results in holding everyone accountable to see if you can improve any of the steps outlined above. I assur you they can be approved.

If you want to establish a culture of excellence, you need to have mechanisms to keep everyone on track. Accountability is a cornerstone of that culture. And while many leaders struggle with holding their teams accountable, with a framework in place like the one outlined above, it can be not only easier, but more effective. 

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