Leaders often struggle to promote accountability within their teams specifically and across organizations more broadly. Even when poor performance clearly has a negative impact on a team’s culture, problems can be allowed to continue until they have serious consequences that can no longer be ignored. Boosting accountability, on the other hand, generally leads to an increase in employee performance.
In a survey of 900 leaders, OnPoint Consulting found that only 45 percent of them believed that the managers in their company did a good job of dealing with poor performers. This was a troubling finding considering that accountability is closely correlated with organizational success. A separate study found that 77 percent of top-performing companies held employees at all levels accountable for results, compared to only 44 percent of less successful companies.
Given the importance of accountability within teams and organizations, it’s worth identifying some strategies leaders can utilize to increase employee performance:
Set People Up For Success
In many cases, accountability is simply about expectations. People generally don’t set out with the intention of being accountable; rather, they deflect responsibility after they’ve failed to do what was expected of them. Simply establishing expectations and providing a framework for following through on commitments can go a long way to increase employee performance and ensure better accountability.
The first step is to actually clarify what actions are to be taken and define what success looks like. Leaving tasks or deliverables unspecified can often make it difficult for people to understand what is expected of them. Secondly, there needs to be an agreed upon timetable that specifies when work needs to be done. Ambiguity on this topic (for example: does “by next week” mean the beginning of next week or the end?) can lead to confusion and misunderstandings that get in the way of clear accountability. Finally, it’s important for there to be checkpoints that allow progress to be monitored over time. This allows managers to make sure work is being completed while also giving employees the opportunity to report any problems or difficulties they’re facing which may require support.
It’s easy for leaders to take a hands off approach for fear of being accused of micromanaging, but that doesn’t mean they should completely disengage from their teams’ day-to-day progress. An effective leader needs to be able to provide support, guidance, and feedback when it’s needed. In many cases, people will be hesitant to ask for help or may even feel compelled to hide problems. By being actively involved in the team’s ongoing work, an effective leader can also spot performance concerns as they develop and deal with them quickly before they have a chance to create larger issues.
Engaged leaders are able to provide ongoing coaching and feedback on a regular basis, whether it’s scheduled as part of a regular check-in or delivered “on the spot” when performance dictates it. When struggling team members turn themselves around and gain some momentum and confidence, supportive leaders are there to celebrate these victories and encourage them to keep improving. This approach can actually increase employee satisfaction and have a major impact on employee motivation. None of this is possible if a leader takes a detached approach and simply waits until a project nears completion to check in with the team’s progress.
Accountability isn’t just a way to increase employee performance; it’s also about behavior. In some cases, a high-performing team member may engage in behaviors that are detrimental to the rest of the team. Maybe they take shortcuts that make tasks more difficult for their teammates, or maybe they engage in abusive behaviors of some kind. Whatever the case, these employees need to be held accountable not just for what they get done, but how they get it done. Simply doing good work is not a free pass to ignore other standards and expectations.
This can be a challenge for leaders who are inclined to emphasize performance, but it’s important to convey to the rest of the team (or the organization) that employee attitude and behaviors inconsistent with the company’s values will not be tolerated. If team members see that an employee doesn’t have to take responsibility for their behavior, they will likely become less engaged and will begin to consider leaving the organization altogether. Leaders need to make it perfectly clear that even top performers will be held to the same standards and expectations as everyone else.
Treat Failure as a Learning Opportunity
One of the reasons people don’t take accountability for their actions is because they fear the consequences of failure. Nobody wants to shoulder the blame when something goes wrong. But when something does go wrong, it’s important to understand what happened, how it could have been prevented, and what can be done to avoid the same problem in the future. In the long run, helping people to improve in this fashion is one of the most effective employee retention strategies.
Rather than punishing people for their failures, effective leaders can reinforce accountability in the future by encouraging them to take a problem solving approach to the situation. What did they do to contribute to the problem? What could they have done differently? What can they do now to help remedy the situation? While consistently poor performance may be indicative of a deeper issue, occasional failure should be seen as a learning opportunity that prompts a discussion about the importance of accountability and expectations.
Engaged, accountable employees are far more likely to deliver the kind of consistent results that every company needs to enjoy business success. By taking steps to encourage more accountability in their teams, leaders can lay the groundwork to make their organizations stronger and more effective. Many of these strategies are easy to implement and can help promote better communication, foster greater levels of trust within teams, and increase employee performance.