If you want something to be done correctly, you do it yourself, right? Not so fast—with this mindset, you’re likely to feel overloaded and overwhelmed. Everyone’s to-do list is now a part of yours. Everyone’s business is your business. You’ve got your hands in too many cookie jars, so to speak.
Plus, you’ve become your own worst nightmare: a micromanager.
You trust no one to get the job done correctly and you’re overloaded with their work, as well as your own. You can’t take a break, because everything that could go wrong in your absence, will (Or so you believe). Resentment builds up for you and your teammates, and as you verge toward burnout, the quality of your work wanes. Deadlines come and go. Work piles up. Your team tires of your micromanaging ways and their happiness, workplace engagement, performance, and productivity start to take a nosedive.
This may sound exaggerated, but it's a reality for too many workplaces. According to Officevibe’s Pulse Survey, 1 in 5 employees don’t think they have enough freedom to decide how they do their work.
It’s time to let your team members do the jobs that they were hired to do.
Give them the work, show them how it’s done, and see what they come up with. If it’s not right, give them the tools to do it correctly, rather than micromanaging or doing it yourself. Empower them with your trust. Give them autonomy, mastery, and purpose.
It’s time to hold your team accountable without micromanaging them (for your sake, your team’s, and the company’s success). Here’s why it’s important and how to do it.
The Utmost Importance Of Team Accountability
To be held accountable is to be trusted. To hold someone accountable is to entrust them with a responsibility.
Trust is a marvelous thing—it’s also the ultimate motivator.
In fact, great results and accountability are connected. High-performing teams (and companies) often have a workplace culture of accountability baked into their organizational foundation. The most effective leaders build a team culture of accountability in order to achieve what is expected of them.
Let’s dig into that.
If you are trusted to find a solution to a problem, you become the hero of that particular story. You are given the holy trinity of workplace drivers: autonomy, mastery, and purpose. You pick up the torch and charge forward with a responsibility and duty to go to great lengths to achieve the best results and come back to the team victorious.
Why is accountability such a powerful motivator? Because you’ve made a commitment to others and to yourself. Your name is on the line—as is your trustworthiness, credibility, and ability to get things done correctly and on time.
You were given a responsibility and will be held accountable for the outcome, whether successful or not. In the latter lies the crux of accountability.
The Sticky Side Of Holding Teams Accountable
Holding team members accountable is one of the most important things that a successful leader can do. During a win, it is easy to celebrate those team members who were responsible. Gather your company around, share the great news, and celebrate!
What happens when leaders must hold team members responsible for their failures, upsets, or mistakes? That’s the hard part—and it also makes great leaders stand out from the others.
In fact, Harvard Business Review once found that 46% of 5,400 upper-level managers in the US, Europe, and Asia rated “too little” on “holds people accountable—firm when they don’t deliver.” No one likes to be the “bad guy” or the “bearer of bad news,” after all. But it’s very important.
So how do you hold your team accountable? To understand that, let’s first discuss what workplace accountability looks like on a day-to-day basis.
What Is Accountability In The Workplace?
Accountable employees clearly know their role and responsibilities. They understand what is expected of them and are empowered to meet—and even strive to exceed those expectations. The same can be said of accountable teams, departments, and companies. For this reason, you can see why accountable teams and performance are inextricably linked.
Accountability for your team means that employees meet deadlines, understand and follow company policies, and meet objectives and targets. They are empowered to work both independently and together as a team with personal, shared, and company goals in common. They celebrate successes and opportunities as a team. They also share mistakes, lessons, and responsibilities as a team.
The Biggest Challenge With Holding Team Members Accountable
What accountability isn’t is pointing fingers or blaming anyone for mistakes. It isn’t about punishment, either.
Instead, accountable team members acknowledge and willingly take responsibility for their own and shared actions. This includes successes, failures, mistakes, and the consequences of them. They know their commitments and have a clear understanding of the part they played in meeting (or not meeting) them.
It’s about delivering on a commitment.
In the same way that they were entrusted to do a job, if they did not meet those expectations or objectives, then accountable team members acknowledge and own that—and strive for better next time. (Yet another motivator.)
What Happens If No One Is Held Accountable?
Let’s say that you were responsible for meeting a project deadline that you missed.
If no one held you accountable, not even yourself, what would keep you motivated and engaged to meet the next deadline?
What does a lack of accountability do to your sense of purpose and drive? On a larger scale, what would keep your team, department, or company engaged and productive if mistakes and failures weren’t acknowledged and owned collectively or individually in the same way that successes were?
Think about that for a moment.
How To Build Accountability In Your Workplace Culture
To refresh, accountable employees willingly accept responsibility for their own individual actions. Accountable teams face responsibilities—and failures and learnings—together. They learn from their mistakes and move forward together all in the spirit of growth and better results.
So how do you build a workplace culture of accountability?
Establish Clear Commitments, Guidelines, And Responsibilities
If accountability is about entrusting team members to deliver on their commitments, then make those commitments, rules, responsibilities, and deliverables known!
This is the first and most crucial step, but it’s one that is often overlooked. One Partners in Leadership’s Workplace Accountability study determined that there was a “crisis in accountability.” They found that “85% of survey participants indicated they weren’t even sure what their organizations are trying to achieve.”
How can team members be held accountable—or have a sense of mastery, autonomy, and purpose—if they don’t know what they’re responsible for? Do they know what they’ve committed to and what is expected of them? Do they know what the guidelines and objectives are for your team, department, and company? Do they know how their work contributes to the greater good of the organization?
Work together as a team to discuss and write down your shared and individual objectives and responsibilities. Share them in onboarding meetings with new hires and during team meetings. Remind employees of their commitments and responsibilities whenever necessary. Tell your team when they are or aren’t meeting and exceeding your expectations of them—and get specific on why, why not, and how to improve.
Part of your job as a manager is to understand your team's commitments and know how individuals can take on responsibilities that meet those of the team. Make sure that every team member has a clear understanding of what is expected of them. This goes for how they conduct themselves in and on behalf of the workplace, but also on a project, task, and performance basis too.
For example, if your team member is now responsible for an upcoming project with many deliverables and deadlines, it is your job to ensure that they know what is expected of them and have the tools for success. Take this opportunity to clearly state what is expected of your team members and ensure that they understand—and can own and accept—any consequences should they arise.
Then, if and when the consequences do arise, those team members should be held accountable. Hopefully, they’ll do so willingly without prompt, but that may come with time as the culture of accountability grows.
Learn and Grow Together From Lessons, Wins, And Mistakes
For every win, loss, and mistake, there are lessons hidden within. Embrace mistakes for their learning opportunities—don’t shy away from them! Communicate with your team about problems that you’re seeing as they arise.
Think of these lessons as constructive feedback. Unlike negative feedback that can deflate and disengage your team, constructive feedback can fuel all kinds of wonderful outcomes.
For example, let’s say that a creative team member shared a piece of content. You could only mention all of the bad or wrong things about it and send them back to the drawing board upset, angry, or disengaged to work.
Or, you could say something positive about the piece and something constructive to improve on. That positive and constructive feedback combination will motivate them. They’re feeling engaged and happy to do a job well done, plus they learned something new. They’re honing and mastering their craft, thanks to your help.
The same goes for holding team members accountable without micromanaging them.
Uncover each lesson in any win, mistake, or loss and use it to help fuel an accountable workplace culture. Gather the information and share it in a debrief with your team after every project.
Notate what worked, give kudos where and when it’s due, and record what can be improved on. Assign responsibilities, deadlines, and expectations. You could even have team members sign that they understand what is expected of them. That way, when you hold your team members accountable for delivering (or not) on their commitments, you can acknowledge ownership and learn together.
This will not only improve future results but also show that you’re serious about the commitments that you’ve made to hold yourself and your team members accountable, no matter the outcome.
Turning Up (Or Down) The Accountability Dial
Part of being able to hold your team accountable without micromanaging means that you understand when to take action and how far to take it, depending on the severity of the situation. Every action should be met with an equal reaction and consequence.
This is understandably the area where too many leaders fail to be firm when and where necessary, according to HBR.
Management coach Jonathan Raymond created a useful framework to follow called the “accountability dial” in his book, Good Authority: How to Become the Leader Your Team Is Waiting for.
According to Raymond’s dial, the severity of conversations increases depending on the manager’s observations and the results of all of those being held accountable.
For example, if a team member’s performance has been slipping lately, the manager could mention it lightly to see if everything’s okay. The invitation is an opportunity for the manager to build awareness around an issue and a gentle reminder of their responsibilities. Use this as an opportunity to take action together. Review your shared goals and see where you can realign moving forward.
The conversation is a more serious 1:1 talk about a lack of delivery on specific commitments. Suggest constructive ways to move forward with more accountability and set SMART goals together with regular check-ins.
As the severity of the situation grows, so should the accountability dial.
The boundary sets performance guidelines that must be met within a particular time frame in order to remedy the issue and see improved results. The limit is the final opportunity for that employee to hold themselves accountable and take responsibility for their actions or to improve their results.
Elevate Your Team’s Performance With Accountability
In the end, holding your team accountable in the good times and bad will elevate your entire team. It will show your team that you trust them, take them and their work seriously, and that you value their contributions.
Give your team the autonomy, mastery, and purpose that they deserve. Hold them accountable for their work—and see how they thrive.
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