“No one told me I needed to get your approval on this.”
“I was too busy picking up the slack for someone else, so I couldn’t get my part of this project done on time.”
“She should have been more clear about what she expected from me.”
Excuses like these create a culture of accusation where people are too busy placing blame to focus on the root cause of problems like missed deadlines, poor customer service, lack of teamwork, or subpar performance.
This is particularly true for leaders who do not hold team members accountable consistently. Without accountability, a team cannot execute its strategy effectively. The challenge is even greater in a virtual setting where leaders must often hold people accountable without the benefit of seeing them in person regularly. In a cross-functional environment, leaders often need to foster accountability from team members who don’t report to them directly.
Whether managing accountability with a virtual team or one that’s co-located, leaders must be careful not to fall into the habit of excusing subpar performance.
7 Accountability Excuses to Stop Making
1. “Things will get better if I wait out the storm.”
The “wait and hope” syndrome assumes that poor performance will improve on its own over time. “They’ll learn,” leaders say in the (often futile) hope that they’ll never actually need to have a conversation about meeting commitments and delivering results. “I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt this time,” they say. In most cases, however, “this time” often turns into “next time,” followed by “What? It happened again?”
2. “It was obvious I was dissatisfied.”
Subtle hints of disapproval or dissatisfaction aren’t enough to convey to team members how a leader may feel about a particular situation. Effective leaders are very direct, vocalizing what they are unhappy with and why. They also make it clear what they expect the outcome of any conversation with team members to be.
3. “This isn’t worth arguing over.”
Leaders sometimes fall into the trap of thinking it’s better to let differences in opinion or discrepancies in a team member’s behavior go unaddressed rather than confront them and possibly spark a tough dialogue, but this only allows these problems to escalate. A leader’s job is to be proactive about resolving issues before they become larger and to challenge their team members to become dynamic thinkers.
4. “My staff must know what I expect.”
If leaders assume they made their expectations clear without knowing for certain, they can’t confidently hold team members accountable for their performance. It’s important to leave nothing to chance when it comes to outlining expectations. Providing this foundation makes it much easier to address someone’s behavior or progress when they fail to deliver.
5. “I don’t want to lose top performers.”
Top performers who feel above the rules should not be allowed to devalue expectations or avoid accountability for their actions. Leaders are often tempted to give leeway to these individuals because they consistently meet or exceed goals, but in doing so they send a negative message to the rest of the team — as long as they perform well, their behavior doesn’t matter.
6. “I don’t want to be a micro-manager.”
The most effective leaders empower team members by showing trust in their ability to make decisions. However, in order for this trust to develop, leaders must observe employee performance to ensure it meets expectations. This is not micromanaging; it’s responsible guidance. When done properly, monitoring can become a constructive activity between leaders and team members to help both groups learn and grow as professionals.
7. “I’ll just do it myself. It’s easier that way.”
Taking on extra responsibilities instead of entrusting them to the appropriate team members will take time and energy away from a leader’s ability to manage. What’s worse — they aren’t holding team members accountable for subpar performance, which makes them complicit in the poor performance cycle.
Managing Accountability Effectively
Successful leaders promote accountability by encouraging team members to take initiative and be responsible for their actions. They begin by setting very clear expectations about who is responsible for specific outcomes and establishing “what good looks like” when it comes to completing tasks and producing deliverables. Team members cannot be truly accountable if they don’t understand what is expected of them. Good leaders eliminate as much ambiguity as possible, not only establishing expectations but also by providing very clear deadlines and timetables for tasks. When someone fails to deliver a specific result by a designated time, they will find it difficult to avoid accountability for the outcome. Leaders must also schedule check-ins that allow them to monitor progress, providing support, feedback, or clarification when needed.
Promoting accountability is one of the biggest challenges leaders face, but the task is made much more difficult when they make excuses for people who fail to accept responsibility for their actions. By establishing clear expectations, leaders can create a strong foundation that allows them to hold team members accountable in ways that are both fair and effective.