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What Is the Right Way To Encourage Accountability?


Trying to hold people accountable for their results is often a negative cycle that spirals into an end result of at least one worker leaving a company. When results aren’t achieved, the worker responsible offers an excuse. That excuse makes a supervisor angry because now they’re held accountable for the lack of results. That anger then reduces motivation, which reduces productivity, and at the end of the day you have a group of people acting passive-aggressively with one another.

How you can make sure that you’re encouraging accountability in a positive way? Through the use of structure. Here are some of the key points you’ll want to look at and discuss as you develop an accountability structure.

#1. How do I set clear expectations?

If there is uncertainty about a task which must be completed or a metric which must be met, then it is difficult to hold someone accountable to a specific standard. There are responsibilities on both sides of this equation. Workers must be encouraged to ask questions if they are unsure and not feel like they will be retaliated against for those questions. Specific expectations and standards must also be issued so outcomes can be tracked.

#2. Where are the right people for the job?

Whose fault is it if results aren’t achieved when the tasks were assigned to someone without the necessary skill set? Is it the fault of the worker… or the fault of the person who assigned the task to an unskilled worker? There must be a plan in place which gives skill-orientated tasks to the people who have the knowledge and wisdom necessary to complete them.

#3. What will measure success?

Far too often, workers are told they have failed when they were expecting to be told that they had succeeded. When there isn’t a clear set of measurements or standards in place so success can be specifically defined, then it is difficult to know what issues might exist within a team. Defined targets allow you to work with people who may be slipping.

#4. Is anyone providing feedback?

The problem with feedback is that people often wish to avoid conflict with one another. This is especially true for supervisors who feel like they have a difficult direct report who doesn’t want to listen to them. Yet without honest feedback that is open and ongoing, there is no real way to set out the clear expectations which are needed for an environment which encourages accountability. Don’t make things personal when giving feedback. Just offer the facts.

#5. What kind of consequences should there be?

Accountability isn’t going to be effective if there isn’t a consequence for a failure to meet expectations. There should also be positive consequences for those who are accountable and meet expectations. You basically have 3 choices: rewards, repetition, or release. Without clarity in this area, there won’t be any desire to be accountable because there is no reason, either positive or negative, to try to meet the goals which have been put into place.

Encouraging accountability must be more than just an angry statement that occurs when failure happens. It must occur on both sides of the aisle so that the right people are doing the right job with clear expectations. With open communication, honest feedback, and traceable metrics in place, the negative cycles can be eliminated so that productivity can remain where it needs to be.

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