Accountability is the glue that ties commitment to results.
Accountability is clarity about commitments that—in the eyes of others—have been kept. It’s not simply taking the blame when something goes wrong. It’s not a confession. Accountability is about delivering on a commitment. It’s responsibility to an outcome, not just a set of tasks. It’s taking initiative with thoughtful, strategic follow-through.
Have you ever worked in a place that is routinely plagued by missed deadlines, broken promises, or teammates ignoring the rules and failing to live up to their commitments? As a leader, have you ever found yourself asking, “How do I get my people to be more accountable for results?”
You’ve probably found that getting angry with people when they fall short is not a productive process for holding people accountable. It almost always reduces motivation and performance.
You can’t delegate accountability. Accountability is something that has to be accepted for that person to feel accountable and to have them take ownership. The best way to get people to accept accountability is to set them up to be successful. No one is going to take ownership and show accountability for something that they know or believe is going to fail.
So, what can we do to foster accountability in the people around us? We need to aim for clarity in these areas:
The first step is to be crystal clear about what you expect. This means being clear about the outcome you’re looking for, how you’ll measure success, and how people should go about achieving the objective.
Clear expectations don’t all have to come from you. In fact, the more skilled your people are, the more ideas and strategies should be coming from them. Have a genuinely two-way conversation, and before it’s over, ask the other person to summarize the important pieces — the outcome they’re going for, how they are going to achieve it, and how they’ll know whether they’re successful — to make sure you’re ending up on the same page.
What skills does the person need to meet the expectations? What resources will they need? If the person does not have what’s necessary, can they acquire what’s missing? If so, what’s the plan? If not, you’ll need to delegate to someone else. Otherwise, you’re setting them up for failure.
Nothing frustrates leaders more than being surprised by failure. Sometimes this surprise is because the person who should be delivering is afraid to ask for help. Sometimes it comes from premature optimism on both sides. Either way, it’s completely avoidable.
During the Clear Expectations conversation with your team member, you should both agree on weekly milestones with clear, measurable, objective targets. If any of these targets slip, jump on it immediately. Brainstorm a solution, identify a fix, redesign the schedule, or respond in some other way that gets the person back on track.
Clear KPIs posted on huddle board.
An effective morning huddle is chance for your team members to share information with each other and deliver project status accountability. A huddle board isn’t complicated. It can be as simple as a whiteboard, a few markers, and sticky notes. Your board should be visual in nature and have the structure to capture critical information that drives discussion for improvements and remove barriers to success.
Click here for information on the four key ingredients that you need to have on your huddle board that will make it more successful and more effective for you and your team.
Example below: A Visual Management system or Key Performance Indicator Dashboard is an essential tool for tracking progress and accountability.
Honest, open, ongoing feedback is critical. People should know where they stand. If you have clear expectations, capability, and measurement, the feedback can be fact-based and easy to deliver. Is the person delivering on her commitments? Are they working well with others? If they need to increase their capability, are they on track? The feedback can also go both ways—is there something you can be doing to be more helpful? Give feedback weekly and remember it’s more important to be helpful than nice.
If you’ve been clear in all of the above ways, you can be reasonably sure that you did what’s necessary to support their performance. At this point, you have three choices: repeat, reward, or release. Repeat the steps above if you feel that there is still a lack of clarity in the system. If the person succeeded, you should reward them appropriately. If they have not proven accountable and you are reasonably certain that you followed the steps above, then they are not a good fit for the role, and you should release them from it—such as changing their role in the company.
These are the building blocks for a culture of accountability. The magic is in the way they work together as a system. If you have missed any one of them, accountability will fall through that gap.
So, if you’ve been asking, “How do I get my people to be more accountable for results?”
Now there’s an answer: It depends. Which of these areas have you neglected?