Something is nagging at you. It’s stopping you from moving forward. You rack your brains, trying to work out just what it is. Electricity fires in your brain. That’s it! You need the people in your team to be more accountable for what they do. The only problem is, you can’t hold people accountable.
Holding people accountable is not something that happens overnight. You don’t flick a switch and turn on accountability. Accountability is a framework, a system, a way of operating. It involves team structure, communication and most of all, behaviour.
When you want to hold people accountable, know that this is a long-term proposition. Yesterday you didn’t hold people accountable and today you do? No, this is not how it works.
Let’s look at some of the reasons why.
You can’t hold people accountable because you haven’t set expectations
If you have never discussed with your team what will happen if performance is poor, if deadlines are missed or if people behave inappropriately, you will find it difficult to hold people accountable.
This is because most of us like to be reasonable people. It would be unreasonable if one day you let poor performance slide and the next you turn around and mete out severe punishment for a spelling mistake.
If you want to start to hold people accountable in your team, it’s important to draw a line in the sand. To make it clear that from now on, when <something happens> the result is going to be <some consequence>. This doesn’t just apply to bad consequences. It is equally valid for good consequences, otherwise known as rewards.
When you clearly set expectations you will find it easier to hold people accountable. “This is how it has always been” or “But nobody told me about this” are no longer acceptable responses.
You can’t hold people accountable because your actions don’t reinforce your words
You say that you want people to be more accountable. But your behaviour speaks volumes. What does it say?
You worked hard to set expectations with the team. They know they need to deliver it by the deadline and it was agreed. So when that deadline slides by, does anything happen?
If not, then your words don’t match your actions. When this happens, your words become far less powerful. Why would anybody believe what you say, when you clearly don’t mean it?
Your words lose their power when people realise your actions don’t reinforce them.
To hold people accountable, you need to reinforce the expectations that were previously set. You need to set the precedent that when you say something, you mean it, and it happens. Failing to do so will lose you respect as people realise your words are empty and meaningless.
You can’t hold people accountable because you aren’t persistent and consistent
Holding people accountable is difficult, especially if it’s something new for a team. When people have become accustomed to being able to work without set expectations, it can be a tough adjustment.
This is why it’s critically important to be persistent. Each time an opportunity arises to enforce the accountability in your team, you need to act in a consistent way. If you are unable to consistently reinforce the expectations that you have set, then there is a problem with your expectations.
You need to train your team to work the way you need them to. Training comes from repeated reinforcement of the same rules. If you are inconsistent in your approach to enforcing the rules in your team, then your team will become confused and frustrated. You are effectively moving the goalposts, which means they have no idea how they need to be behaving to achieve the outcome they want.
The more consistent you are in holding people accountable, the less you will need to reinforce it. When the team becomes used to the new normal, you will find you need to worry less and less about reinforcing the rules.
You can’t hold people accountable because you aren’t aligned
It’s all very well wanting to improve accountability in your team, but only if there is universal buy-in for the approach. When you are trying to hold people accountable, you need to have the majority of your colleagues and other leaders aligned. Nothing destroys change initiatives faster than relying on a group of people who don’t agree on the change being implemented.
Let’s look at an example:
Toni is trying to get her team to care more about hitting deadlines. She wants to get her team to a place where missing deadlines is the exception, rather than accepted behaviour.
Sometimes Toni’s team works with Bob’s team to get things delivered. Unfortunately, Bob doesn’t run a tight ship and he doesn’t really worry about deadlines too much.
“It’s done when it’s done”, he says.
The problem in this situation is that Toni’s team will see the accepted behaviour on Bob’s team, which will put the seed of doubt in their minds. Do deadlines *really* matter? Is it that important? Bob doesn’t seem to think so. If Bob happens to be quite influential, this could really undermine Toni’s proposed approach.
Obviously, in Toni’s team, she should have the final say. But this sort of situation doesn’t help. When faced with a situation like this, it’s a good idea to try to get alignment between key stakeholders so that you’re all on the “same page” and you aren’t undermining each other.
If you want to be able to hold people accountable in your team, remember the four pillars that you need in place to make it happen.
Clear expectations, reinforcement, consistency and alignment will help you to hold people accountable.
It will be a long journey, but well worth the trip.