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.)

Increasing people’s commitment

When people feel committed to achieving results, they work whole-heartedly and do their best. Low or no commitment yields the bare minimum that comes from half-hearted effort.

Here are the important To Dos to increase people’s commitment:

  1. Paint the ‘big picture’ so they can share your vision.
  2. Help them see the ‘light at the end of the tunnel’ and involve them in helping you work out how to get there. (These first two To Dos are known as ‘engaging people’ in the jargon.)
  3. Match the work needed to reach the goal suits their skill set and personal inclinations.
  4. Next, ‘energise’ them. How does achieving the goal help others? (I posted about this 2 weeks ago.)
  5. Provide the resources – the time, effort, information, etc. – they need to achieve the goal; without this, they’ll feel like they’re beating their head against a brink wall – a sure way to sap the energy you’ve summoned.
  6. Show your appreciation for their contributions. Make it clear you prize what they’re doing because it’s helping to bring that light at the end of the tunnel ever-closer.

So there we have it, a simple enough formula that you can put to work tomorrow to bring out the best in your team:

Engage – Match – Energise – Provide – Prize

R A M it home!

Have you ever asked someone to do something for you, like adopt a new procedure or take on different job duties, and it wasn’t done as you’d hoped or expected? Or wasn’t even done at all?

Survey after survey tells us that up to three quarters of change efforts fail. Old habits are hard to break; those strong, old neural pathways just keep resurfacing and smothering the new ones we’re trying to build.

That’s why asking people to change the way they do something, or just to do something, is often not as simple as it seems. Here’s a little memory jogger – RAM – to remind you how to RAM what you want home without ramming it down people’s throats.

R – Realistic: Make sure what you ask is sensible and practical. Is the person interested in doing it? What’s in it for them? (Ye olde WIFM)

A – Achievable: Does the person have the time and resources (tools, equipment, information, your shared vision) to do it? Do they know how to do it?

M – Measurable: This makes what you’re asking clear, so people know precisely what you’re looking for from them. When they don’t know precisely what you want, the chances you get it are slim. Explain what you want, why you want it and why you’re aksking that person to do it (and not someone else), when you want it and how or how well you want it done (when that isn’t immediately obvious).

The next time you ask someone to do something for you or to do something differently, RAM it home so you get what you expect.

Seven ways to make your messages memorable

Whether you need to make a point about health and safety, establish a standard operating procedure, train a team member or introduce change, here’s how to make sure your messages hit home:

  1. Use positive language by stressing what you do want, not what you don’t want. For example, don’t say or write ‘Don’t go up an unsecured ladder on your own’, say or write ‘Always have someone hold the bottom of an unsecured ladder while climbing it’.
  2. Use a photograph or illustration when you can, because, as they say, ‘a picture is worth a thousand words’. For example, when your safety instructions or standard operating procedures say ‘Always have someone hold the bottom of an unsecured ladder while climbing it’, insert a photograph of two popular team members doing exactly that. (Because images stick in our minds, make sure the photo or diagram shows the right way, not the wrong way.)
  3. Write actively, not passively to keep the word count down and make your points more ‘alive’ and memorable. For example, ‘Always have someone hold the bottom of an unsecured ladder before climbing it’ is active and more interesting than ‘Unsecured ladders should always be held by another person while being climbed’. (You’d never say it like that, so why write it like that?)
  4. Keep your messages short and simple, and in the (polite) language of the workplace so they’re easily and quickly read and understood.
  5. Use the ‘you’ word: writing personally makes it clear your message is for the reader or listener. For example, you could write ‘You should always have someone hold the bottom of an unsecured ladder when you climb it’.
  6. Remember the WIFM—What’s In It for Me? Give people a reason to listen or read. For example, ‘For your own safety, always have someone hold the bottom of an unsecured ladder before climbing it’.
  7. Repeat your most important messages often, using different words, different examples and different mediums (e.g. computer screen savers, emails, face-to-face meetings, posters and Twitter).