Learn to Hold People Accountable (Without Being a Jerk or a Doormat)

This article was originally published on Inc.com.

As you start to grow your company and bring on new people, one of the hardest aspects is learning how to hold people accountable. It’s one thing if your team is always productive, efficient and delivering as promised. If that’s the case, congratulations, you’ve won the lottery! But most likely you will encounter situations where someone doesn’t follow through on their commitments.

For so many of us the whole idea of holding someone else accountable brings up a range of emotional baggage. Here are some common reactions:

  • Ugh. I hate confrontation!
  • This person is trying to get away with something. They’re always testing the boundaries.
  • I wish I were a stronger leader
  • I wish people respected me more
  • Why can’t they just deliver as they promised? Why is it up to me to make sure they do their job?
  • This really pisses me off. They’re gonna hear about this.

In short, many of us don’t know how to approach the situation in an appropriate, professional way. In fact, many of us are so conflict-averse that we have trained our people be relaxed about commitments. We’ve never held them accountable, so they think we don’t care! And if we react with anger, we may get results, but we are eroding trust and damaging morale.

The good news is that holding people accountable is just another step in a communication process. You don’t need to be a jerk and you don’t need to be a pushover. Let’s break it down:

1 GET AGREEMENT

It all starts with clarity and agreement on what needs to get done. Discuss what is required, why it's important, what the priority is and when it is needed. This could be a 30-second conversation requesting a piece of information or it could be a multi-day planning effort. The point at this stage is to get definition and alignment on what everyone is doing.

2 REITERATE

At the end of agreement phase, recap the agreement. This means ending a quick conversation or email with "Okay then, I'll be looking out for it next Tuesday. Thanks!"  It could be an email itemizing what was agreed on, or even a project plan with a detailed schedule and dates. But documenting and reiterating the agreement is a critical step in the process.

3 SUPPORT

As a leader, you need to support your team. For a quick item, it could be just a quick email or verbal "Is there anything you need from me?" For longer projects, this could mean securing additional resources, protecting them from interruptions or providing training. The bottom line is that you are doing your part to set your people up for success.

4 HOLD ACCOUNTABLE

If they deliver, it's all good!

If they don't, you don’t need to get mad and you don’t need to stew quietly. First, remind them of the agreement. "I was expecting it today - that's what we agreed on.” Then ask them how they will solve the problem. “So what do you propose we do?"

Most people want to do a good job. Being held to their word is often a surprise for those who have been left to drift. Putting the responsibility back on them makes them more responsible.

5 BE CONSISTENT

If you’ve trained your people to be laid-back about agreements, you only need to go through this once or twice before they realize: When she says Tuesday, she means Tuesday! By being consistent about this, you will create a culture where people understand that making a specific commitment means something.

Give it a try.


© 2014 Jennine Heller and J Heller Coaching. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Jennine Heller and J Heller Coaching with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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