Believe it or not, employees want to be held responsible for their performance. Here are four keys to turn this watchword into a successful practice
BY DOUG STEWART
“I WILL HOLD YOU ACCOUNTABLE.”
In every cubicle and on every sales floor, the word “accountability” strikes fear in the hearts of employees, but shouldn’t accountability be a good thing? Shouldn’t people want to be held accountable for their contribution? Shouldn’t they care about their performance?
The answer is yes. People do want to be held accountable. They want to know how you feel about their work. They want to know how they can improve and be more effective. Overall, I believe people want to do a good job. But, if that were true, wouldn’t the whole accountability thing be much easier? Instead, it ends up feeling more like the relationship Wile E. Coyote has with the Road Runner. You do the chasing, they do the running—and you’re always the one who gets cracked on the head with an anvil.
People don’t want to be held accountable by just anyone; they want to be held accountable by someone they trust and respect. Therein lies the secret to accountability—trust.
Lack of trust leads to a lack of productivity. A lack of productivity leads to a drop in performance. A drop in performance leads to a decrease in sales. A decrease in sales affects profit. And when profit isn’t what it should be, the company suffers and so do its people.
How accountability works
How do you ensure you can hold your team accountable in a productive way? The first step is understanding accountability and how it works.
Accountability is made up of two words, account and ability. Accountability, simply put, is accounting for the ability of your employees—not expecting too much or too little. It’s important to have a realistic expectation for each subordinate. After all, your team is made up of human beings with a need for appreciation and dignity.
Want to nurture peak performance within your team? Account for individual ability and support your team members to perform at that level. People want to work for a person, not a position.
Four truths about accountability
Your “why” matters. The why behind your accountability makes all the difference. Even more important, how your employees perceive your “why” will make or break your ability to lead. Are you holding people accountable for selfish gain or mutual benefit? Do you want the job done right no matter what or do you really care about the success of those who are doing the work? People can sniff out inauthenticity like a bloodhound.
This style of accountability isn’t soft. In fact, there should be times when you care about an employee so much you help him find a new place to work.
Accountability without trust isn’t accountability—it’s judgment. Many “leaders” think they’re holding their people accountable when, in reality, they’re judging and hiding behind a title. When your people trust you, they will allow and expect you to hold them accountable. Leaders should be comfortable asking permission of their employees to hold them accountable for their production. After all, we are dealing with adults, not children. Well, they may not always act like adults but let’s face it, neither do you nor I.
Agreement and cooperation are two imperatives to authentic accountability. It may seem strange, even out of place, to ask your employees for their permission when it comes to accountability but I encourage you to spend time thinking about the difference between compliance and cooperation.
Compliant employees come in late, gossip while there and steal when they can. They will do the job while you’re breathing down their neck and are never willing to do anything more than what is absolutely required. Sound familiar?
On the other hand, cooperative employees are reaching for the same goals you are. They are more likely to come in early, stay late and help other employees who may be struggling. They believe in the common goal and are dedicated to seeing it through whether you’re watching or not. Moreover, they believe you have their best interest at heart. As a result, they are loyal to you, your store and their team.
Would you prefer compliance or cooperation in your company? How would more cooperation from your employees affect productivity, profits, turnover or even your personal stress level?
Accountability minus communication equals chaos. Playwright George Bernard Shaw said, “The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” When people know exactly what is expected of them, they are more likely to do it. You’re hiring employees, not mind readers so speak openly about what you want and need. The clearer you’re able to make the expectations, the more success both you and your team will enjoy.
Accountability is a two-way street. Accountability must go both ways. As a leader, you have a tremendous responsibility to be accountable to your people. If you want transparency from your team, be transparent. If you want honesty, be honest. Your team is a reflection of you and your values. Not the values you talk about—the values you actually demonstrate with your actions.
“Do as I say, not as I do” will not work with your team members. In fact, it doesn’t work with anyone of any age. Ever.
When accountability only goes one way, it shifts from constructive to destructive. If your people feel that punishment will follow every mistake, you will discover only the issues you uncover yourself. If they feel safe to make nonfatal mistakes, you will be given the gift of time and brought into the issue before it turns into an anvil on your head. Get into the habit of letting your mistakes and weaknesses be known.
American scholar Brene Brown made this keen observation about her own feelings about vulnerability: “The difficult thing is that vulnerability is the first thing I look for and the last thing I’m willing to show. In others we see courage and daring. In me, it’s weakness.”
We need to fight the urge to be perfect and above reproach in every area of leadership. When you show your people you are human, they will allow you to be just that, human. As Dale Carnegie noted, “If you are wrong, admit it quickly and emphatically.” Your employees will be authentic, transparent and vulnerable if—and only if—you go first.
Isn’t that what leadership is all about? Going first?
Don’t wait for the building to burn to the ground before you call the fire department. If you have an accountability issue, attack it head-on with an honest conversation.
So, where did the accountability go? Maybe, if you are willing to look, you will find it in your court.
Speaker, trainer and writer Doug Stewart is the director of training at Mega Group USA, a certified Dale Carnegie instructor and blogger at FurnishingResults.com.