How to encourage accountability

Who were the people in your life that made a positive difference to the person you are today? When you think about the positive influences in your life, chances are many of them held high expectations that may even have seemed tough at the time: the parent who made sure you practiced the piano even when you didn’t want to; the boss who gave you one challenging assignment after another and expected nothing less than your best.

I believe that one of the kindest things we can do for people is to set high standards, expect the best and hold them accountable for meeting them. Here’s how to hold someone accountable.

First, discuss the outcome you’re after. Outcomes are better than a series of tasks because with a series of tasks, people can do the bare minimum, but that doesn’t wash with outcomes. Be clear about how you’ll measure success, too. When the outcome is big or distant, agree milestones and how often you want a progress report.

Make behavioural expectations clear, too. Whether it’s turning up to meetings on time and fully prepared or providing short and incisive, not rambling, reports, do yourself, the team member and your whole team a favour by setting high standards and making them clear. (If you haven’t, it isn’t too late – explain precisely what you expect from now on.)

When people aren’t coming up to scratch, find out why.

  • Do they have the resources (time, information, etc.) they need? When they don’t, provide them.
  • Do they have the skills and experience they need? When they don’t, teach them and coach them.
  • Have you asked a creative, broad brush type of person to do something better suited to a detailed, analytical dotter-of-i’s and crosser-of-t’s? Assign work to the right person.
  • Do they understand that meeting your expectations is important? Explain the big picture (how what you’re asking fits into the organisation’s vision or business plan). Let people know you’re serious by acknowledging their progress and showing appreciation when they meet your standards. When you don’t do do that, they think you don’t really care about them being met. Or when you let people get away with letting you down sometimes, they think you’re being unfair when you do enforce them. (And they would have a point.)

Making people accountable makes a positive difference to them, your team and your own career (because when someone in your team lets you down, you look bad, too.)