How to hold people accountable without ruining relationships.

Picture this scenario: People at work are unengaged. You can feel your direct reports whispering about you around the water cooler. Sometimes you feel walked on. And your team thinks that they can get away with anything…because you won’t do anything about it. Does any of this sound familiar?

Having crucial conversations with your team is hard. We know our employees have good intentions. But sometimes, they make mistakes, or we need to correct performance issues. And holding them accountable for missing the mark can be extremely uncomfortable. You don’t want to hurt feelings and you don’t want to create a combative environment. But issues arise when we, as managers, are scared to ask our teams to take responsibility for their actions. Here are some quick dos and don’ts to keep in mind.

 

DO: Foster communication. Before you even try to hold people accountable for their actions and goals, you need to create an environment that encourages communication. Find out something about your team members: their hobbies, their interests, their family, their values. Create a base level of trust.

  • DON’T: Be their best friend. We get it. It is fun to have friends at work! And it shows that you care about your team. But there is a line. It becomes difficult when you must go from friend to manager and actually hold your team accountable.

DO: Set clear expectations. The first step is to ensure that your employees know exactly what success looks like. What is the outcome you’re expecting? How should it be accomplished? How will we know that it was accomplished? Work to create alignment and focus within the team.

  • DON’T: Expect your team to know everything. Let your team know that it is okay to ask questions. And sometimes people don’t have questions until they get into the weeds of the project.

DO: Make it measurable. In order to set a clear goal, it must be measurable. If it isn’t measurable, how will you ever know it is finished? Think about these questions: How Much? How Many? Who is involved? How long will it take? What is the desired outcome?

  • DON’T: Be vague. Or create goals that require interpretation. Your opinion or perspective might be different from your employee’s.

DO: Explain the potential consequences. If the job doesn’t get done correctly or on time, how does that impact your clients? Your team? Your company as a whole? What does that mean for the person or people who didn’t get the job done correctly? Set the precedent up front that you are fully expecting to hold your team accountable.

  • DON’T: Make accountability taboo. Why is it even taboo anyway? Start the conversation, create a discussion, respond to concerns, and know when to draw the hard line.

DO: Train, coach, and be available. You can’t just give your team a project and then cross your fingers and hope that it gets done correctly and on time. You need to ask the questions to see if your team has the skills to get the job done. And if not, you need to train them. You will also need to coach your team and encourage problem-solving. Start by asking questions like: “What have you tried so far?”, “What has or hasn’t worked?”, “What could you do to fix that?” Be available when they need you, but don’t provide all the answers.

  • DON’T: Micromanage. Is there anything worse than your boss standing over your shoulder watching your every move? You feel stuck, like you’re doing something wrong and second-guessing yourself at every turn. Do you think your employees feel any different? It is okay to let them make mistakes because mistakes lead to coaching moments, which leads to a more independent workforce.

DO: Give consistent feedback. Be specific and give feedback in multiple avenues. Consistent feedback sounds scary. Who has time for that?! You do. Feedback does not need to be a formalized “sit–down” anymore. Stop by their desk, send a text or email, have a video conference or give them a quick call. Be specific in your feedback. What was done correctly?  What wasn’t what you were expecting? And how can they get back on track?

  • DON’T: Only focus on the negative. When we do this, we start keeping score. And we become that manager that no one wants to hear from.

 

By remembering these simple actions, you can create a relationship with your team that allows them to know that you are there for them; that you want them to succeed; that you will give them the tools to do so; and how uncorrected poor performance will impact the team and the organization. At the end of the day, “I tried” isn’t always the best business model. Results must still be achieved. And everybody wants to be a part of those results. How can you set the stage for your team to be successful?

Watch this video on accountability!