The boss keeps saying “Jess is responsible for this”.
“John is responsible for that.”
Unfortunately, just saying that somebody is responsible doesn’t mean much.
For someone to take responsibility, you first need them to buy in. Many times, I’ve seen leaders fall flat on their face, because they expected somebody to take responsibility, but it didn’t happen.
I’ve done this myself. I expected somebody to step up and be responsible, but they didn’t come through.
When this happens, the first thought that comes to mind is that the person is useless.
Worthless. Incompetent. Not a team player.
But it’s time we looked a little bit harder at the reasons for this, rather than just blaming somebody else.
There Are Reasons Why People Don’t Step Up and Take Ownership
When you want somebody to take responsibility, you can’t just say it. You need to set up conditions that make it happen.
On the flip side, there are factors that stop people from accepting responsibility or accountability. If you’re having a problem getting people to step up and take responsibility, look for some of these issues in your team.
Learn More: 4 Reasons Why You Can’t Hold People Accountable.
1. People Won’t Take Responsibility Because They Lack the Skills Or Experience
I’ve seen situations where leaders tell others they are responsible for tasks that are unfamiliar. Often it happens when people leave a team and aren’t replaced.
The boss: “Sarah, you’re responsible for handling all the sales enquiries that come in.”
Sarah: “But I’ve never done sales before.”
The boss: “Well, you need to take responsibility for it, because Josh left.”
Perhaps Sarah does need to take responsibility for sales enquiries. But in order to make it work, you’ve got to provide her with the skills to do so.
Coaching, mentoring or training are all ways to achieve this. But don’t expect people to take responsibility without providing the tools to make it happen.
Learn More: Improving team performance through cross training.
2. People Won’t Take Responsibility Because They Don’t Believe In Your Approach
When team members don’t agree with a leader’s approach to managing the team, they are less likely to take responsibility for tasks. People are less likely to commit because they are doing something they don’t believe in.
Telling someone they are responsible for something they don’t believe in is a recipe for disaster.
One way managers can avoid this is to communicate the “why” behind their actions.
Some leaders operate on a “need to know basis”, telling their team members only the bare minimum of information. But if you want buy-in and need people to step up and take responsibility, they need to know why it matters.
Start communicating the reasons behind your decisions. Otherwise, you’re forcing people to follow a path that they don’t want to walk down.
3. People Won’t Take Responsibility Because They Don’t Feel Supported
A critical factor in helping your team members take responsibility is ensuring they feel supported. They need to feel as if you’ve got their back.
If you tell someone they are responsible and then leave them alone, there is a good chance they’ll lack confidence. They will be fearful and feel as if the weight is all on their shoulders.
If you want people to take responsibility, you need to support them. This means being available, listening to concerns, coaching and mentoring. Then you need to make sure you provide regular feedback on their progress.
Otherwise, your team members will feel as if they are being hung out to dry.
4. People Won’t Take Ownership Because They Aren’t Interested In the Work
Sometimes, efforts to convince someone to take responsibility fail because they just aren’t interested in the work involved.
This comes back to understanding what each team member wants to achieve in their career. If they have specific goals in mind, finding work that matches those goals can be a great way to encourage them to take responsibility.
Otherwise, your team member is going to feel the burden of responsibility, but without any of the benefits. If taking on more responsibility isn’t getting them to where they want to go, they are less likely to feel invested.
We can’t always provide work that excites and motivates everybody. But the better you understand the goals and aspirations of your team members, the greater chance you have of getting them to step up and take on responsibility.