Holding others accountable doesn’t have to be a painful experience


A very common problem I hear from clients is how to hold their staff accountable.  Just using the word ‘accountable’ creates negative perceptions.  I have heard it described by terms like ‘holding people’s feet to fire’.  Ouch, that sounds very painful!  It also implies the use of control to tell people what to do.

Taking Control

I see this leads managers to follow two different approaches.  One is to control as we describe above.  This takes a lot of time and energy, and the person being managed, I’ll call them the performer, doesn’t enjoy it at all.  Work does get done though, so you can argue it is effective., especially if we don’t measure the long term costs.

Do It Yourself

The alternative approach is ‘do it yourself’. This a common approach for people oriented managers with high levels of empathy. They shy away from holding people accountable, do the work themselves and this leads to problems. The manager becomes overwhelmed and becomes a bottleneck. Their behavior reduces team members opportunities to learn new or develop existing skills.

As you can see, both approaches are very problematic.  Fortunately, this is not a case of having to make the best of two bad approaches, there is a third way.  I call this commitment based management.  Let’s see how it overcomes four key problems associated with accountability.

  1. Goal Clarity – This is about reaching agreement on what will done and the desired outcome.  If the goal is not clear, there is a high risk the outcome will not meet expectations.  This leads to the tendency to want to control because trust is low.  Goal clarity is about generating listening and alignment in the other person.  Telling a person what is required is not enough, you have to check alignment.
  2. Secure Commitment – It is easy to fall into the trap of telling people what to do and then leaving them to do it.  When we do this, we have no idea whether the other person has the ability or motivation to do it.  By checking ability we can offer help.  Checking motivation challenges another widely held belief.  If we are paying them, they had better do it.  Finding out what motivates a person and aligning their work with it is the way to generate exceptional results.  I have talked about encouraging a ‘no’ in other blog posts and it is very relevant here.
  3. Check In – You have alignment on goals.  The performer is committed to complete the desired outcome, and now it is time to check in.  Most managers believe they have to control this meeting.  They use it as an opportunity to judge the work done so far.  This creates a defensive response and the performer’s goal becomes hiding any problems.  I advocate giving the performer ownership of the meeting.  Ask them to share their assessment of whether they will deliver the desired outcome.  You can probe to help them anticipate problems they haven’t thought off.  Your goal in this meeting is to support the performer to help them deliver a successful outcome.
  4. Recognize  – Once the outcome has been achieved, don’t forget to recognize the work.  Reward the performer(s) for taking ownership, working through problems and delivering the desired result.  It is a powerful way of generating commitment.

Commitment based management is an effective alternative to controlling or doing it yourself.  Putting it to use can be challenging at first.  It is very different than either of the common alternatives.  With the right support and practice, it is an effective way to hold your team accountable and improve morale.

I have provided a visual outline of commitment based management to help you put it to good use.   Click on the link below to access it.