Holding people accountable
As a leader, your key task is to get the best out of your people. An important part of managing people is giving them feedback. We all like being valued and appreciate being told we are doing a good job. Giving positive feedback is easy. As a leader you also need to become comfortable giving people honest, direct, constructive feedback when they’re not meeting expectations or reaching their potential. You need to hold people accountable so you can make progress as a team. This enables people to adapt, learn and grow, improving their and the team’s performance.
Holding people accountable will drive team performance and enhance your reputation as a leader. If you don’t do this, team performance and morale is likely to suffer. As will your reputation.
Four key steps for accountability
There are several things you need to do to hold someone accountable without coming across as difficult, demanding or a micro-manager:
- Clarify your wants and expectations and ensure these are understood
- Hold regular meetings to discuss progress and performance
- Provide clear and constructive feedback linking the feedback to the desired outcome
- Reset expectations and be clear about the consequences of failing to deliver.
1. Clarify your wants and expectations and ensure these are understood.
The starting point in holding someone accountable is to ensure you make your expectations crystal clear. You need to spell out what you are looking for and explain why the task is important (link it to the desired outcome). You need to ask questions to ensure that your team member has understood what it is you want and expect. If you don’t do this, you can’t be surprised when someone doesn’t deliver what you want. You might say something like:
“I just want to be sure we are aligned on this; can you please tell me what you understand I want in terms of your performance on this task.”
2. Hold regular meetings to discuss progress and performance.
It is easier to hold people accountable if you set up regular meetings to discuss how they are going. The meetings can be virtual or face to face. Providing regular feedback builds trust. If you are providing regular feedback (both positive and critical) people are more willing to listen when you have something critical to say.
At these meetings you should ask team members to share how they are progressing on the agreed task/s. Listen respectfully and carefully to what they say and explore their responses by asking good open questions. “So when you say things are on track, what exactly do you mean? Can you give me a bit more clarity about…”
During the meeting, after listening to what they have to say, clearly explain your observations and thoughts on their performance. State what you like and explain why you like it. If you have any concerns, explain what you are concerned about and why you are concerned. Whenever possible, refer to specific information and data to illustrate the issue. Try to show them what you are looking for and explain how what they have done isn’t what is required.
3. Linking your feedback to the desired outcome.
Research on giving effective feedback makes it clear that it is important that you link the feedback to desired goals and focus on how to move forward. If you can show that the purpose of the conversation is to make things better in the future, people will feel more responsive and positive.
4. Reset expectations and be clear about the consequences of failing to deliver.
When you are providing someone with critical feedback and clarifying expectations, you need to make it clear what the consequences will be if performance doesn’t improve. This should not be done in a threatening manner, but rather as honest feedback given with the intention of ensuring they understand the significance of the situation.
The consequence of continued poor performance might be a written warning or the introduction of a formal or informal Performance Plan. Whatever the case, make sure you spell out the consequences of continued unsatisfactory performance.
For example, you might say: “It’s important that we produce high-quality reports that are easily understood. What you’ve done here is not what we need, as it is difficult to read and doesn’t clearly highlight the key points. I’ve given you previous reports to look at, but it doesn’t appear you have referred to them. If you can’t improve the quality of your reports, I’m going to have to put you on a formal performance management plan, which is not what I want to do. What’s your understanding of what you need to do to improve?”
Putting this into practice
- When you set tasks or delegate work, make sure you are clear about what you are expecting and that this is fully understood by your team member. Test that you are fully aligned on the expected outcome (including any timelines).
- Hold regular meetings with your team members where you specifically discuss progress on key tasks, and provide clear, constructive feedback on their work.
- When you have concerns, explain why you are concerned, explain what you would like them to do differently (show them if possible) and confirm what you have agreed so everyone exits the meeting crystal clear on future actions and consequences of non-performance. Capture what has been agreed in writing (a confirmation email is always useful).