In one of our workshops, we focus on good practices for holding people accountable. We read the HBR article “Who’s Got the Monkey?” by William Onchen, Jr., and Donald Wass. The concept in the article is the backdrop for holding people accountable for the right things while avoiding taking all of the accountability on yourself. It is a great read. Research completed by Partner in Leadership reported that 80% of leaders feel less than adequate when asked to evaluate their success in this area. Clearly, it is a great place to focus. Our three premise statements for a leader who effectively holds people accountable are:
- Align expectations
- Consistently follow-up
- Create ownership
Align expectations: Here is the best news about aligning expectations — if you are outrageously clear about the expectations, and the employee understands, and you agree upon checkpoints… holding people accountable becomes the simplest part of the equation! If your employee knows what you are looking for and when you are going to look, then your task is simply to ask on-time! No arguments. No confusion. Here is the bad news about aligning expectations — not many leaders are strong in this area. Three things you can do to improve your skills in this area. First, before you set the expectations with your employees consider the situation from their perspective. Consider what’s in it for them, what will be easy, what will be difficult. Think it through before you begin then conversation. Second, have the conversation. Notice I did not say “tell them the expectations”. I said have the conversation; a two-way dialogue. Involve the employee in the setting of clear expectations. Finally, restate. It seems so simple, but it happens so infrequently. After you have had your conversation and believe you have reached agreement, simply restate or better yet have the employee restate. If you follow these simple steps, you can guarantee alignment.
Consistently follow-up: Do you have routines that help you follow-up consistently? Do you use the same routines for all employees, both high-performing and struggling? There is no magic bullet here. To be effective at follow-up you need to establish routines or cues for yourself to follow-up at designated times — use your calendar, use a follow-up email, ask your employee to follow-up (that means you probably have to set a calendar reminder to remember that you asked your employee to follow-up!). Whatever you do, be consistent. And, think about the employee — a struggling employee may need to follow-up after baby steps while the high-performer can clearly be monitored differently.
Create ownership: In the book, “The Oz Principle” (Connors, Hickman, and Smith) talk about the importance of the ‘line’ when it comes to accountability. Below the line there are statements that clearly reflect a lack of accountability — “I don’t remember you asking me that”, “I could have accomplished it but…”, “It is really not my fault.” Recognize these statements as ‘below the line’, lacking accountability and address directly. You may have to go back to the first step of Align Expectations. “Above the line” statements reflect clear accountability on the employee’s part. Statements such as ‘I have a recommendation’, “Let me tell you how we are going to get this done.” It is much easier to be successful with employees who stay ‘above the line’. Follow these steps and make it much more likely!