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Common Pitfalls for Managers Building Accountability

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Daniel, a young manager, frequently finds himself frustrated that his team is not delivering projects on deadline. He doesn’t know how to fix it, and often uses a repertoire of different tactics to try to combat it. However, it seems that every time someone comes to him with a setback, he validates their reasoning. When asked about his approach, Daniel feels that he is being empathetic – a key trait for successful leaders. It wasn’t that long ago that Daniel was standing in their shoes.

When Daniel is listening to his team, he understands the reasoning behind their comments. There’s truth to the excuses. He finds himself saying things like “Oh, I know the budget isn’t where it should be”.  Or “Oh, I understand we do have a lot of projects on the table.”  His frustration lies in the fact that while the excuses keep coming, the results stay the same. Things aren’t getting done on time.

Have you experienced this on your team? In your organization?

Creating accountability is difficult. And it is a leader’s job. It is the leader’s responsibility to embrace the mindset: GIVEN my current reality what DO I need to do to create the results, the career, the life that I want. When the managers have that mentality, they share it with their team members.

Below are three common pitfalls to creating accountability in organizations.

Managers aren’t trained to have the conversations. Many people leaders are not properly trained to respond to their direct reports’ excuses or lack of accountability. Because you can’t mandate accountability, leaders must know how to create an environment where people choose accountability, where they choose to come to a problem with solutions rather than excuses.

Now, imagine if Daniel had a conversation with his team members that was skilled and structure. One critical tool used in Fierce Accountability is to reframe the excuse. Instead of saying, “OK.” Daniel can ask, “Given that the budget isn’t where it should be or given that we do have a lot going on, what can you do?” Instead of just acquiescing to excuses, and saying “well, okay, I hear you”, the manager needs to say “I hear you AND what can you do about it?” The manager must be able to hold the space and have the skillful conversation to move the person to action. This comes with practice and feedback.

Managers want to be liked. Does your culture frequently recognize the “most liked” individuals? Or does your culture recognize the “biggest driver of results”? We often work with organizations that have “terminal niceness”. There is so much fear around stepping on someone’s toes or holding others to specific standards, that all of the conversations become superficial. How balanced are those two spectrums?

Take a long look at your performance management process. Evaluate how you are rewarding behaviors. If managers who get the most gold stars on dimensions that can be tied to “popularity” instead of driving results, you may need to adjust some of your goals and processes. Be intentional with what you expect and reward.

Managers do not see their role. Lack of accountability quickly becomes a slippery slope. Think about many of the disasters in this past decade from the financial crisis to auto and cellular phone recalls. Once knowledge of what has really happened gets to the press, employees come from all facets of the organization sharing how the behavior, fraud, whatever it may be, was known by some. Or that the top person didn’t do anything about it. You may be inclined in these situations to point fingers at one person in particular. That is what the press loves to do.

However, if your leaders’ inclination is to say that they can’t have accountability because your culture does not have it. Or your top leaders don’t have it, then stop them right there. And share this blog. And share: Culture doesn't live outside of you. That's not how it works. You are the culture. You choose what it looks like every day. You choose it in the conversations you have. And even more so if you lead people, you model and reinforce those choices each time you interact with others.

If accountability is an issue in your organization, do not just wait for something to shift. You must create a plan to equip people with the skills and practice they need to really believe and move the mission forward. And watch out for those common pitfalls – some are easier to see than others.

For more details and a robust discussion about accountability, please join our Master Facilitator, Beth Wagner, in our Fierce Webcast Be Fierce: 3 Tips to Build an Accountable Culture. Beth will share three tips to help you ignite the conversations that will develop a culture of true accountability, and encourage employees to succeed and grow while advancing the goals and initiatives that are critical to your organization’s success.


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