The Service of Accountability 

Hopefully you’re holding your people accountable for their attitudes, actions and results. Even though no one really likes accountability everyone preforms better when held accountable. But all accountability is not the same. 

Accountability used as a tool to force compliance with “orders” results in the bare minimum being accomplished. Accountability used as an opportunity to excel results in extraordinary accomplishments. 

When used as a compliance tool the accountability discussion can quickly turn confrontational. So quickly that many mangers simply don’t hold their people accountable. Except for once a year during their annual review. Then they dump of year’s worth of subpar performance on the unsuspecting employee. 

When accountability is provided as a service the discussion looks very different. Authentic Leaders ask their people to hold themselves accountable. If the team member was unsuccessful in accomplishing their tasks then the leader can help. They can provide “along the way coaching” to help the team member succeed.

When the annual review happens there are no surprises. No difficult conversations and no mountains of improvement needed from either party. Because accountability has been established throughout the year the “review” is actually a review. Determining what worked particularly well and what could work even better. 

Many managers do everything they can to avoid conflict with their people. Even if it means allowing them to flounder their way to failure. Authentic Leaders know that one of the best ways to minimize conflict is to help their people hold themselves accountable. 

Authentic Leaders set up annual or quarterly accountability plans with their people. Each team member knows exactly what is expected of them. The required outcomes are crystal clear. Accountability is understood to be an escalating process. If the team member was not able to hold themselves accountable then their leader will serve as an accountability partner to ensure their success. 

The difference between accountability as a method for forcing compliance and as a service to develop people is mindset. 

Never underestimate the ability of your people to ferret out the motives for your actions. If you’re using accountability for your benefit they will know it and fight it. If you’re using accountability to help them grow and succeed they will realize that as well and they will be much more accepting of it. They will in fact commit to continuous improvement. 

Compliant people might get the job done. Committed people will get the job done and they will do it well. Which would you rather have? 

Accountability should never be used as a club to punish someone for poor performance. It should be used as a tool to guarantee success. 

How do you use accountability?

When to Hold Your People to Account

Most people preform better when they are held accountable for their effort and results. Unfortunately the term “accountability” carries with it a negative connotation. It is assumed that we hold someone “accountable” for their mistakes or actions. While that is true we can also hold people “accountable” for the things they do right.

Accountability is not about blaming or judging someone. It is absolutely not about punishing someone for a mistake or lack of effort. True accountability is about coaching. 

Accountability can fail for a variety of reasons, the most common is that for many leaders accountability is just an off the cuff hallway conversation about “doing better” or “getting on the ball.” 

Effective accountability requires a bit of planning and strategy to ensure that the “accountable person” understands what they are accountable for. 

Accountability coaching must be clear and concise. An accountability discussion must be just the facts, certainly no exaggeration should be included. The discussion must include exactly what is expected of the person being held to account. It must include exactly when it is expected as well. 

As a leader it is your responsibility to help your people succeed. If they don’t have what they need to succeed then all the coaching in the world won’t make a difference. You must ensure that they have the required training, resources and feedback required to succeed. If you can’t, or won’t, provide the tools they need to succeed then you can’t ethically hold them accountable either. 

As a leader you should remember that you are their “model” for success.If you’re trying to hold them accountable to a standard that you fail to meet you’re just wasting their time and yours. 

You cannot let your emotions disrupt the accountability discussion. The more emotion you display the more emotion the recipient of your coaching will display. When emotions become involved things tend to slide downhill quickly. Deliver your comments in a caring, empathetic way, but keep your emotions in check.

If you’re coaching for improvement then address the issue early, waiting almost always allows the issue to grow. It’s easy to just “let it go” when it’s small but ignoring problems seldom accomplishes anything. 

Above all remember to also coach for positive reinforcement. Hold people to account for the good things they do, let them know they have been “caught” performing well and that their efforts are appreciated. 

If you coach only for improvement you’re likely negatively affecting the morale of your team. They will get the feeling that they can’t do anything right and soon enough that will be the case. Accountability coaching will require an investment of time on the part of the leader but it is an incredible tool for building future leaders when it’s done well. 

 

Do it well!