Don't Shy Away from Accountability—Your Employees Actually Want It

Marina Martinez

Posted by Marina Martinez
October 8, 2015

(And your team's effectiveness depends on it.)

Picture this: You meet with one of your employees at the beginning of a year. He's full of fire and ready to crush some ambitious goals. He pitches a new initiative he wants to spearhead, and you both agree it has great potential. He leaves, excited to get to work. 

Six months later, you meet with the same employee for his review, and it’s like that earlier discussion never happened. The promising initiative seems to have fallen completely off his plate. You've heard nothing about it. Should you bring it up?

Well, he probably had more pressing matters to deal with, you think. So you let it slide. He certainly doesn't bring it up. Instead, the two of you discuss a new crop of goals, though you have a sneaking suspicion some of them might similarly evaporate before year's end.

How low accountability kills performance

This silent dismissal of agreed-upon work may seem harmless, but it has the potential to cripple the performance of people, teams, and companies. When managers don't hold people accountable to what they say they'll do, goals easily fade into the background based on whim and circumstance.

Such lack of follow-up leads to unfocused execution and poor overall results. The team misses the chance to talk openly about unmet goals, discussing what happened and why. Work becomes a free-for-all, where people do whatever seems most important in the moment, and where low performers may gain a comfortable and unnoticed foothold.

This lack of accountability is a giant roadblock to performance. To get the important things done in today's world, everyone on the team—leaders included—has to make clear commitments and then follow through.

In a piece for strategy + business, Elizabeth Doty describes the problem well:

With broader spans of control, increasing specialization, shorter launch cycles, and greater use of shared services, managers simply cannot deliver if their teams and staff in other functions don’t step up to the plate.

Yet many leaders are surprisingly sloppy when it comes to asking for commitments from others. They either accept ambiguous commitments, or they do the hard work of laying out a vision, an opportunity, or a plan, then fail to ask others to commit to making it happen.

3 reasons accountability and high morale go hand in hand

Unfortunately, the thought of imposing “accountability” or "commitments" on employees turns off many leaders. It may call to mind a workplace disciplinarian, someone who relishes a paternalistic style of management and feels the need to breathe down people’s necks.

It’s time for leaders to get past that hesitance and build the right kind of accountability into their teams. Done right, accountability is not the enemy of employee morale. Your employees—especially the really good ones—will actually appreciate it. Here are three reasons why.

1. High performers want to be held accountable

According to an extensive study by Gallup, the statement that best predicts employee and workgroup performance is, “I know what is expected of me at work.” That’s really what accountability is: getting clear on what the employee is expected to deliver, and then seeing that it happens. That second part—the follow-through—is essential. An expectation is meaningless unless it’s actually an expectation.

When you fail to hold people accountable by letting their goals fade into oblivion, the employee doesn’t necessarily appreciate the free pass you’re handing out. You’re signaling your own weakness, and essentially telling the employee that you don’t much care about what they do.

Yes, low accountability might help you sidestep an uncomfortable conversation when an employee doesn’t keep a work commitment. But that short, sharp discomfort is a lot better than the festering frustration of a talented employee who feels his manager isn’t holding him to a clear standard.

2. High performers want others to be held accountable

What’s more maddening than the slacker on your team who isn’t pulling her weight? This form of resentment (whether based in reality or perception) runs rampant on low-accountability teams. In addition to appreciating being held accountable themselves, A-players want to know that accountability is part of the culture, applied equally to everyone.

Here’s another Gallup predictor of engagement: “My associates or fellow employees are committed to doing quality work.” Employees can’t accurately monitor all their colleagues’ commitment to doing quality work, and trying to would be a massive waste of time. The effective short cut is for the manager to publicly, consistently commit to accountability, and then walk the talk.

3. Accountability doesn’t have to be punitive

No one’s going to hit their targets every time, nor should they be expected to. On a high-accountability team, people aren’t punished for falling short of a goal. Instead, manager and employee discuss what happened and identify lessons to be taken from it.

A huge benefit of non-punitive accountability is that employees—knowing their boss will follow up one way or another, and that the purpose is not to crack down on anyone—feel comfortable raising their hand early when something is going off the rails.

If your employee has committed to delivering a certain amount of sales-qualified leads, for example, and she sees she's not on track to make the target, she'll feel comfortable going to you and discussing the lowered projection. This type of conversation—rooted in trust and focused not on employee shortcomings but on how the team can work together to achieve more—is highly valuable to everyone, allowing for a level of agility and focus that’s impossible on a low-accountability team. (And it’s exactly that type of discussion that Khorus, with its weekly Likelihood and Quality ratings, is designed to facilitate.)

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Creating a culture of employee accountability is the best way to give employees what they need (and want) to be successful. If you do it with careful thought and the right structure to support it, employees will thrive, and love you for it.


 

Our mission at Khorus is to help our customers be the best-run organizations on earth—and that includes building healthy accountability into how the company operates. Get in touch today to see how leaders like you use Khorus to set clear priorities, gather team insights, and help their teams achieve more together.

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Marina Martinez

Marina Martinez

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