How to Hold Others Accountable Without Hounding Them

Does the following scenario ring a bell?

You leave a meeting. It may have been a long meeting, but you got through it, side-tracks and all. It seems clear to you that everyone in attendance is clear on their individual and the collective next steps.

Ah, finally. Forward motion you can sink your teeth into.

Half-way before the next meeting, you reach out and check in to see how everyone is doing. Remember those deliverables? How’s it going? What are you learning? Do you need help? 

And what do you hear back?

Zero responses to your check-in.

Then, worry creeps in.

And with good reason. At the next meeting, two call out sick, another is traveling for work, and only one person has followed through on what they said they would, the others barely acknowledging their slack or claiming some form of overwhelm. 

You think, I don’t have time for this. None of us do

If you don’t recognize this pattern, well then, yay! Your team has a good sense of accountability. But I bet you know (or know a boss or board president for whom) this kind of thing happens often. And it happens more than you would guess, especially when companies are in growth spurts.

What’s a leader to do?

Lately, I’ve noticed more struggles with accountability across the board. (Speaking of boards, accountability often suffers in nonprofit boards, because volunteers). Yes, there are generational issues with Boomers and Millenials — different work styles that cause gaps in communication. In addition, our lives are moving at an alarming pace. There is so much distracting information to contend with on a daily basis, we have to slow down and work harder to remember and follow through on our agreements and priorities. Lastly, accountability is misunderstood. What exactly is it? Let’s start with what it’s not: blame or shame. 

Accountability is NOT blame or shame. Click To Tweet

Shame and blame are destructive forces that shut people down. Being accountable doesn’t necessarily set you up for fault or a toxic self image. Accountability simply means, you need to stand in, and if you’re a leader, require others to stand in response-ability — the ability to respond to the tasks you are assigned or willingly take on. Workers need to really understand this differential in order to step into the kind of accountability that majorly impacts engagement, via ownership of a part of the whole.

Here are some guidelines I share with my clients when needing assistance in holding others accountable:

1. Double, triple check to see that people understand what they are responsible for: Have them repeat it out loud back to you or the group to ensure comprehension. Make eye contact. If you see that they’re checking their phones, that their mind is somewhere else, that the information hasn’t landed, check again (as a leader, you have to be present enough to do this).

2. Get buy-in on the accountability process: Tell people when and how you intend to send a follow-up, see if that works for them, if not, negotiate.  Request in advance that they respond to specific emails, text, slack, etc. What happens if something’s going on and a worker can’t follow through? Decide together, in advance, how to handle accountability in those situations, and what will happen if accountability is outright ignored.

3. Remind workers of the big picture consequences of their lack of accountability:   If you sense people are not stepping up, be direct, by reviewing point blankly what can or will happen if there is no ownership and follow through on intended goals. It helps to have people understand how their pieces connect to other pieces of work. And feel free to include the impact of their accountability failure on your role. EXAMPLE: “If you are unable to finish the report for X client, and don’t let anyone know, everyone has to scramble to meet the deadline, which puts other projects at risk. We may appear sloppy and unreliable. Then we have to use our resources to repair that perception, and/or the client relationship. It could negatively affect our ability to win more business. Plus, I don’t have the time to be tracking you down. Please, don’t add to my workload in that way.”

Holding people accountable for their actions doesn't make you mean. Click To Tweet

Remind them you’re not interested in blame or shame, but that everyone deserves clear expectations and communication. 

Yes, there’s more. But this should be a good start. And if you want to discuss other tactics to improve accountability, let’s talk.

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