The Art of Holding People Accountable
“It is not only what we do, but also what we do not do, for which we are accountable”- Moliere
Have you ever encountered a situation where your employees or team members have missed a certain deadline and then proceeded to reason it out without any real reason? As a leader, this situation can put you in a difficult place with respect to how far you must hold your people accountable.
You may be a leader who acquires great A-players, however, there will be moments when you are left with the feeling that your team can work more or perform better. That said, accountability does not mean taking the onus only when something goes wrong, it means much more than that. When someone takes the accountability for something, they make the commitment of delivery long before the task is performed. They then go onto fulfilling this commitment by executing the task with absolute precision. This involves taking initiative with a strategic way forward.
Taking accountability for actions or results is applicable to all levels of the hierarchy. Before censuring employees, great leaders first introspect on how they approach their responsibilities and how they transfer a sense of ownership effectively to their employees in turn. However, accountability cannot be achieved unless both parties communicate clearly enough to understand the other’s perspective and driving force. This can be a frustrating process, where empathy, guidance and assertion must all be blended in perfection. An important aspect to remember in such trying times is that resorting to anger when the team falls short on productivity, is a vicious cycle. It only leads to demotivation and a dip in performance which further frustrates and disillusions a leader. There are, however, long term solutions, to instil accountability at the workplace.
Explicit Communication and an Open Conversation
More often than not, the reason for sub-par team performance is a lack of crystal-clear communication. The agenda could be clear in your mind, but it needs to be explicitly communicated to the team and even followed up with an email so that it is on record and can be referred to whenever required. Further to this, having a two-way conversation where you lay out your agenda and ask others to summarise it in a discussion, helps prevent any miscommunication and gets everyone on the same page. Clear and two-way communication results in building clarity on timelines and definitions of deliverables, prioritizing tasks in order of importance and setting dates for first drafts and final versions. This lucidity ultimately helps inculcate a sense of ownership – something that is absolutely key to building accountability. It is only when employees are invested enough in a job and can take the onus of planning and decision-making, that they will allow themselves to be accountable as well.
Regular Follow-up and Streamlined Processes
While this is a set task for any leader, it is rather surprising how often this is overlooked because of the daily fire-fighting that one gets involved in. It is therefore crucial to get the team together every month or fortnight with all reports and updates and then discuss the progress so far by assessing early drafts and giving requisite inputs and feedback. Such meetings are also essential to know if tasks underway are still on track, whether some sort of damage control is required, or whether realignment of resources to roles is needed. Catch-up sessions can additionally help identify previously unthought of risks and obstacles and ways to avoid or counter them.
Finally, the route for the near future should be charted out, and the goal for the next follow-up session should be set. This will hugely enhance work quality, one of the factors that is hardest hit by lack of accountability. When employees pursue completion of a task only to placate a superior or to mechanically fulfil a deadline, but not because of their own sense of ownership, the outcome may be sloppy. However, with true ownership and accountability, comes definite and noticeable excellence at work.
The Strategic Play Between Honest Feedback and Mentorship
With a balance between constructive criticism and guidance, you enable the team to approach you whenever required and also create a culture of honest, productive feedback. As a mentor, your goal should be neither to berate employees nor to hand-hold them, but to help them, help themselves. Be it with resources, new knowledge, contacts and of course perspective, well mentored employees will finally be able to streamline their projects and make them a success, all while knowing that there is a leader to direct them if they are in the dark. Not only this, it is also important to make employees aware of the importance of certain tasks. If the job matters more to you as a leader and less to your employees, then accountability will never be achieved. The answer is to communicate the significance of a task, and drive home all the details so that this significance makes sense to each and every employee. Mentorship is not about telling people what to do, but inculcating in them a sense of ownership, such that they know what to do. After all, it’s not a one-man show but a whole orchestra.
The cherry on the cake of accountability is consistency. This is where the actual job begins. Results don’t show overnight, they take practice and consistency. Once committed, don't let ownership and accountability initiatives slip away like another new year resolution. Relentlessly pursue this practice of clear communication, regular follow-ups, feedback and mentoring for at least a year, after which the frequency and rigour can be modified according to results. These practises not only enhance the accountability of your team but also develop you into a more refined and reliable leader.