4 Ways to hold people accountable the right way

Ben was behind on some delivery dates. When his boss Geoff quizzed him about it, Ben justified why the dates had been missed. While Geoff knew Ben was doing his best in a tricky environment, Geoff also reflected the delivery dates were the ones Ben had originally proposed. He asked himself:

How do I get my team to become more accountable for their results?

Accountability is attached to the outcome, not the intention or effort

Accountability is about owning and delivering on a commitment, rather than simply being responsible for the set of actions that contribute to a result. Accountability is black and white – the outcome was either achieved or not. This is a hard pill for some people to swallow. Why? Because it’s easy to rationalise and justify actions in a way that lets us off the hook. Think of the number of times you’ve let yourself down or excused yourself by not keeping the promises – big or small – you’ve made to yourself.

Holding others to account can be hard, especially in the complex and uncertain environments we’re all working in, and, you can still lead with care and give your reports the support they need.

Leading through a lens of accountability harnesses the value in your team

When my back is against the wall, the best in me comes out – Sharon Pearson.

Being accountable challenges your reports to think laterally, creatively and critically to consider different perspectives, ideas and options. While it’s not a comfortable place for them to be and the outcome may still not be guaranteed, you will, however, see what your reports are made of, through their capacity to problem solve and work with and through others. Building this thinking capacity is the best way to develop your team.

Here are four benchmarks for being a leader who instills accountability the right way:

1. Manage your expectations

Are your expectations of your team realistic? You can’t make someone accountable for what they can’t control.

Are your expectations in line with what someone is capable of? You can’t make someone accountable for what they are not capable of achieving. I’ve seen too many leaders perceive they’re giving growth opportunities to reports who are simply not ready for the problem-solving complexity of the challenge they’ve been given.

2. Make the benchmarks for accountability clear

Make sure the goals and outcomes are specific, agreed and understood. A clear and shared understanding creates no room for interpretation.

Also remember that while someone agrees and understands what needs to be done, this doesn’t mean they’re committed. Find a way to engage them in being accountable in a way that is meaningful to them. This is the way to bring people into accountability rather than have them feel like they’re getting brought into it.

3. Be prepared to have tough conversations

Give the feedback and coach someone to step into spaces where they are safe enough to challenge their own thinking (beliefs, assumptions and biases) that can help them consider different perspectives and actions for how they can step up and take the lead. Understanding where they are coming from will help you lead them with compassion rather than judgement.

4. Lead by example

Are you as personally accountable as you think you are?

Accountable leaders have the mindset ‘it’s me’. They understand what they can control and influence and walk their talk through the process in way that sets the standard around them. For example, they:

  • acknowledge their mistakes
  • focus on making things work
  • learn from experience
  • ask for help when they need it
  • manage their ego and EQ
  • don’t pass the buck or blame others
  • push through difficulty with resilience
  • create a culture of accountability through everyone in the team being clear on what they expect of each other and the attitude they need to bring.

Which one of these ways could you pay more attention to, to drive accountability within your team?

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