We all talk about holding people accountable…but what does that mean? Do we fire someone when they screw up? Do we put our employees on probation whenever they make a mistake? Not likely…
What Is Accountability?
Holding people accountable is one of the toughest things CEOs have to do. The reason is that few of us understand what accountability means, and even fewer of us know how to hold someone accountable. We find it difficult to come up with appropriate consequences for failures to perform. Of course, there are times when firing someone is the appropriate consequence for an action, but those “firing offenses” are really big mistakes and not the typical “dropped ball” mistakes that we usually deal with.
People want to be held accountable. It gives them motivation, satisfaction, and a sense of stability. And they will become frustrated, and perhaps resentful, when they see others NOT being held accountable for their shortcomings. So establishing a level of accountability is essential for a business to be successful. In an ideal world, your employees will hold themselves accountable, relieving you of that burden. Truly good employees will do this on their own, while you spend your time trying to hold the remaining, not-so-good employees, accountable.
The question I always get from my CEOs is: “How do I hold someone accountable?” As I said earlier, you can’t fire everyone, and you can’t put everyone on probation…and you can’t threaten people all the time, so what can you do? I advise the following:
- Peer pressure – Using peers to hold someone accountable is an easy task. Most people want to be respected by their peers (sometimes more than they want to be respected by you), so using a peer environment can often do the trick. I recommend that you use staff meetings to discuss “failures” and mistakes. This shouldn’t be done in an accusatory or critical way, but in a helpful way, using the group to discuss the issue and what happened. After having done this a few times, your staff will know that their next mistake or failure to perform will be a topic at the weekly staff meeting, and they won’t want to face their peers with another problem. For some people, just having their peers discuss their shortcomings is enough to keep them motivated to perform well.
- Shame – No one likes to be embarrassed in front of their boss. Reprimanding someone is more like a punishment, but expressing disappointment in their performance can have a motivational effect. When you look someone in the eye and tell them you are really disappointed in their performance and you had expected better from them, the effect can be quite dramatic. It only takes one or two instances like this for some people to dread having dropped the ball on a project, knowing they will be disappointing you.
- Incentives – Using positive incentives to motivate people to perform is a way to make them hold themselves accountable. You don’t have to punish someone for failing to perform or making a mistake, but the loss of an incentive due to poor performance is a way to get people to “self-correct.”
- Withholding Praise – Praise doesn’t sound like a form of accountability, but the lack of praise is. If you consistently praise good performance, people will strive to get praise, and when they don’t perform well, and the praise is withheld, they will soon learn to modify their behavior. That’s exactly what accountability is meant to achieve.
The real key to accountability is to figure out what works with each person, since some will respond better to one form of accountability than another. And make sure that they know what they are being held accountable for. This means establishing measureable goals, giving them feedback whenever possible, and making sure that consequences are linked to the failure to achieve these goals.