3 Ways to Build Accountability On Your Team

Oct 2, 2014
6 Min Read

If your staff is missing deadlines, not following through on work, not taking responsibility for mistakes, or simply not producing high-quality work, you’ve probably got an accountability problem. Here’s how to fix it.

1. Talk explicitly about your expectations – not just about what people do but also how they do it. Managers often make the mistake of having a whole set of expectations for how employees will behave but keeping that information to themselves – and then being frustrated or surprised when employees don’t act in accordance with those expectations, even though they never shared them. But unless you manage a team of mind readers, part of your job as a manager is to do the work of getting your team aligned with what you expect from them.

Some of this happens in the hiring process, of course – you screen for people who have a strong work ethic, take initiative, exercise ownership, and so forth. But a large amount of expectation-setting also needs to happen afterwards, as well. For instance, if you’ll get antsy if people aren’t responding to emails within a business day, tell them that. If your deadlines of “by the end of the day” really mean “by 5 p.m.,” be explicit about that. Whatever your expectations, get them out of your head and articulate them for your team. Otherwise, you’ll end up frustrated that people aren’t performing in the way that you want, and your team will end up frustrated that they’ll be held to standards they were never told about.

2. Give feedback when you see things you like and things you don’t like. Too often, managers keep their thoughts about employees to themselves. They’ll be impressed and delighted at how a staff member handles tricky clients – and might even praise her to others – but neglect to tell the staff member directly how great her approach is (or even better, specifics of what makes it so great). Or they’ll be annoyed that a staff member always turns in unpolished work, but never actually tell the employee, “When drafts come to me, they should be fully polished and ready for publication, which means no proofing errors and no fact-checking still left to be done.” That can lead to employees not feeling accountable for the types of things the manager would like them accountable for. Which leads us to…

3. Ensure that actions have consequences – both good and bad. If people feel like great work goes unrecognized, over time they’re less likely to continue going out of their way to do truly exceptional work. And if people feel like great work isn’t recognized but problems are always called out, people will wonder how it is that you always notice the bad without seeming to observe the good, and then you’ve got a recipe for plummeting morale on your hands. It’s important to ensure that you’re providing recognition and rewards when things go well, as well as consequences when they don’t.

And keep in mind that “consequences” for problematic performance doesn’t have to mean something formal, like a write-up or disciplinary action (and those things can often be overkill). Rather, a consequence can simply be a conversation with you, asking about what happened and what the plan is for avoiding it in the future. On a healthy staff, that should often be all the consequence you need to reinforce accountability and get things back on track. (Of course, there will be times when that doesn’t solve the problem, and then you’d escalate in seriousness from there – but that’s usually the right place to start.)

You may also like:

What to Do When Your Team is Missing Deadlines

Taking Responsibility for Mistakes at Work

Learn how to build accountability (as well as Focus, Simplicity and Transparency) on your teams to improve your business operations and project success, with Gordon Tredgold, October 8.

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