How to hold employees accountable?

how to hold employees accountable

As it drives production, brings cohesion and helps achieve goals, accountability is the cornerstone of management. However, setting up the conditions for a work environment where you can hold accountable your team members comes with quite a few challenges of its own. Yet, there are some simple and effective strategies leaders can use to take up those challenges. In what follows, we will explore practical approaches to holding teams accountable. But first, we need to focus on the concept and see how it can be beneficial to your management.

Product Manager – Coachyz
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hold employees accountable

Hold accountability: meaning and benefits

What it means to hold and to be held accountable in a work environment

Holding people accountable at work is not about playing the blame game, it’s about asking to honor commitments and take responsibility for outcomes. It’s not just about doing tasks and getting results. Accountability involves ensuring that objectives are complete and criteria are met. Effective accountability spans all levels of hierarchy, ensuring that everyone is on the same page.

It shouldn’t be an instrument of fear, quite the opposite actually, it should be a way to boost individual and collective performance. By holding people accountable, you promote operational efficiency since goals are achieved as promised.

Ultimately, accountability means being answerable for actions and decisions, driving success through fulfillment of commitments and alignment with organizational goals.

Why is holding accountability important in team and performance management?

Holding individuals accountable in a work environment is a prerequisite to:

  • reaching satisfactory productivity;
  • maintaining integrity at every scale;
  • achieving company and team goals.

As we’ll see further, holding team members accountable involves establishing clear expectations, assigning responsibilities, and ensuring that each member of the team understands their role as well as their obligations. Accountability is correlated to responsibility, where individuals own up to their shortcomings but are also proud of their contributions.

In an accountable work environment, performance is evaluated in regard to predetermined standards, and consequences, whether positive or negative, are applied accordingly. This ensures that employees are motivated to perform to the best of their abilities, knowing that their efforts are recognized and valued.

Moreover, accountability promotes transparency and trust among team members, as it encourages open communication and constructive feedback. By holding individuals answerable for their contributions, organizations can identify areas for improvement, manage conflicts, and ultimately, strive towards continuous growth and success. Overall, accountability serves as the cornerstone of a healthy and thriving work culture.

accountability principles

The “Accountability Dial” framework

In his 2016 book “Good Authority: How to Become the Leader Your Team Is Waiting For”, Jonathan Raymond, founder of Refound, develops a very useful framework to help managers hold their teams accountable through the 5 steps of what he refers to as the “Accountability Dial”.

This framework is designed to work in virtually every management context. The whole philosophy revolves around three key teachings:

  • Accountability hinges on a foundation of genuine concern from individuals for the team, in other words, employees need to be involved on a professional and personal level.
  • There is a structural difference between micromanagement and accountability: the former fixates on tasks whereas the latter centers around relationships.
  • Employees crave development, which often arises from constructive challenges. If your focus remains solely on acknowledging the positive aspects of the day, you’re neglecting significant opportunities for growth, you need to be able to point out the good, the bad and the ugly.

Without further ado, let’s see, in sequence, the five steps of the framework.

The Mention

In this first step of the Accountability Dial, you subtly bring attention to a specific behavior or performance issue without directly naming it. Your mention should be gentle and non-confrontational, as the goal here is to send a first signal that there is an area for improvement. It’s a way of initiating the conversation without inducing defensiveness or resistance from the team member(s).

During the Mention step, you should focus on providing observational feedback rather than judgment or criticism. Offer examples of the behavior or performance in question, highlighting its impact on the team or organization.

The objective : creating awareness and opening the door for further discussion about the issue.

The Invitation

Following the Mention, you extend an “Invitation” to the team member(s) for a discussion about the identified behavior or performance. This invitation is an opportunity to adress the issue in more depth and explore potential solutions collaboratively. Approach the conversation with emotional intelligence and curiosity, creating a safe space for the team member(s) to express themselves.

During the Invitation step, encourage open communication and active listening. Seek to understand the team member’s perspective and any underlying challenges or concerns that may be contributing to the issue.

The objective: engage the team member in a constructive dialogue.

The Conversation

Once the “Invitation” is accepted, engage in a further “Conversation” with the team member about the behavior or performance issue. This is the central step for a reason: it should focus on exploring the root causes of the problem, identifying potential solutions, and establishing clear expectations moving forward, maybe talk about corporate and teamwide OKRs. It’s an opportunity for you and them both to exchange views and collaborate on finding a resolution.

During the Conversation step, you should prioritize open communication and problem-solving. It’s also fundamental to encourage the team member(s) to take ownership of their actions and contribute to developing a plan for improvement.

The objective: providing guidance and support as needed and ensuring that the team member feels empowered to address the issue effectively.

The Boundary

After the Conversation, set a “Boundary” or limit regarding the behavior or performance expectations. This boundary should be a clear and specific metaphorical line that defines acceptable and unacceptable behavior moving forward. It’s designed to establish accountability and reinforce the consequences of not meeting expectations.

During the Boundary step, communicate the expectations clearly and ensure mutual understanding between yourself and the team member. This is also time to put the emphasis on the importance of adhering to the boundary and the potential consequences of failing to do so.

The objective: holding accountable everyone (with clear criteria) moving forward.

The Limit

The final step in the Accountability Dial is “Limit.” Here, you enforce the boundary and tangibly hold the team member accountable for their actions or performance. If the team member exceeds the limit or fails to meet expectations, intervene and implement consequences as necessary. This may involve providing additional coaching, feedback, or disciplinary action, depending on the severity of the issue.

During the Limit step, maintain consistency and fairness in enforcing the boundary. Provide support and guidance to help the team member course-correct and meet expectations moving forward.

The objective: enforcement and action.

accountability dial

Tips to hold employees accountable for their work

We saw the general principles and an effective accountability framework, now let’s see a few simple and effective ways to have your employees feel accountable for their actions, decisions and ultimately their performance.

Start with yourself

Leading by example is not just a catchphrase to put on a poster. It’s quintessential to management: you can’t expect your teams to feel responsible for their results if you show too much complacency with your own actions and behaviors. A higher rank in the hierarchy does not exempt you from taking ownership of your responsibilities. Admit mistakes when they occur, and strive to consistently meet expectations. By modeling accountability, you set a positive tone for your team and inspire them to do the same.

Set clear expectations

We have already hinted at this previously. Clear and specific expectations are essential for
holding employees accountable. Communicate what is expected of them in terms of:

  • tasks;
  • goals (consider using the V2MOM framework);
  • performance and quality standards;
  • deadlines;
  • any other relevant criteria.

When employees know exactly what is expected of them, they are better equipped to meet those expectations and be held accountable for their performance.

Don’t solve, empathize

Instead of jumping in to solve problems for your employees, practice empathy and active listening. When employees encounter challenges or obstacles, take the time to understand their perspective and the origins of the issue.

Extend a helping hand, guide and encourage without taking over the whole problem-solving process. Empowering employees to find solutions on their own builds their confidence and accountability.

Provide the necessary resources

Ensure that employees have access to the resources, tools, and support their need to effectively perform their jobs. This may include:

  • training;
  • technology;
  • information;
  • adequate staffing.

When employees have the necessary resources at their disposal, they are better positioned to meet expectations and deliver results. When you invest in employee development and support, you show your commitment to their success and accountability.

Allow employees to make decisions

The same way you give your employees the tools to find and design solutions, empower them to make decisions and take ownership of their work. To achieve this you’ll need to provide them with sufficient autonomy and trust to execute tasks independently.

Encourage them to weigh options, assess risks, and make informed decisions that stay in line with organizational goals. When employees have a sense of ownership and control over their work, they are more likely to take accountability for their decisions and outcomes.

Learn to tell apart excuses from legitimate explanations

It’s important to differentiate between valid reasons and mere excuses when holding employees accountable. While legitimate impacting performance hurdles may arise along the road, excuses are often used to deflect responsibility.

Listen attentively to employees’ explanations for missed deadlines or subpar performance, but also ask probing questions to assess the validity of their reasons. Addressing excuses directly and offering support to overcome challenges will greatly improve accountability among your team.

Assess and reward performance

Whether through monetary bonuses, public acknowledgment, or career advancement opportunities, rewards can motivate employees to consistently meet and exceed expectations.

This is why you might want to regularly assess employee performance against established expectations and goals. Don’t forget to give constructive feedback on strengths and areas for improvement, but also to recognize achievements and contributions.

Then, implement a system of rewards and recognition to incentivize accountability and performance excellence.

Provide consistent feedback

Feedback is a core resource to hold people accountable and facilitate continuous improvement. Be prone to deliver specific, and constructive feedback on both positive and negative aspects of performance.

The key parameters here are:

  • timing;
  • regularity;
  • availability.

Indeed, feedback goes both ways, you should always be receptive and open to hear about employee input and perspectives. As a whole, consistent feedback helps employees stay on track, address areas for improvement, and maintain accountability.

Embrace mistakes

Mistakes are an inevitable part of the learning and growth process. Make sure that everyone on the team embraces mistakes as opportunities for learning and improvement. When employees make errors, focus on identifying lessons to be drawn and strategies for preventing similar mistakes in the future.

By creating an environment where employees feel comfortable admitting mistakes and seeking help when needed, by normalizing enlightening mistakes, you foster accountability but also resilience within your team.

In conclusion, holding employees accountable requires a proactive and multifaceted approach. By starting with yourself, setting clear expectations, practicing empathy, providing resources, empowering decision-making, distinguishing excuses from reasons, assessing performance, offering consistent feedback, and embracing mistakes, you can cultivate a culture of accountability and drive performance excellence within your organization. Remember, accountability is a shared responsibility between leaders and employees, and it requires ongoing effort and commitment from everyone involved.

At CoachYZ, we are aligned with this way of thinking. As a matter of fact, we believe that every executive, every team manager, every leader should go above and beyond to be the best version of themselves they can be. Everyone of us has a potential which remains to be fully revealed and harnessed. If you want to be that kind of decision-maker, start your coaching journey with us!

how to hold employees accountable
Product Manager – Coachyz

Coaching remains an essential tool in our toolbox, despite the ever-changing professional world. In the digital age, our approach has evolved from simply informing journalists to delivering rich, engaging content directly to our target audience. Good coaching must be personalized, relevant and adapted to the digital world to ensure optimal online visibility. What’s more, the incorporation of multimedia supports such as videos, images and interactive links can considerably enhance its impact. 

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Accountability is inherently tied to responsibility (about decisions and results). In the work context, it simply means that everyone, at every level has to own up to their mistakes but not in a fearful and destructive way. Meeting quality standards and reaching set objectives should always be considered and depicted as positive, as a way to grow individually and collectively.

Encourage team members to openly discuss challenges and seek assistance when needed. By focusing on finding solutions to problems rather than assigning blame, you commit to problem-solving and improvement rather than punishment. Having a supportive environment where mistakes are viewed as opportunities for learning helps reduce fear and encourages accountability.

By providing autonomy and support, setting clear expectations, and fostering a culture of trust. Instead of dictating every detail of how tasks should be completed, you can empower team members to take responsibility for their work and make decisions autonomously. Clear expectations should be communicated upfront, allowing team members to understand their responsibilities and the desired outcomes. Additionally, leaders should provide ongoing support and resources to help team members succeed.

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