Does this story sound familiar?
Daniel, a young manager that I coached, frequently found himself frustrated that his team was not delivering projects on a deadline. He didn’t know how to fix it and often used a repertoire of different tactics to try to combat it.
It took a while to uncover what was happening. However, it became apparent after digging into multiple examples that every time one of his team members came to him with a setback, Daniel validated the individual’s reasoning.
When I asked about his approach, Daniel felt he was being empathetic – a key trait for successful leaders. It wasn’t that long ago that Daniel was standing in their shoes.
When Daniel listened to his team members, he understood the reasoning behind their comments. There’s truth to the excuses. He found 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. Accountability is missing.
Even if this story doesn’t feel familiar, your organization may still lack true accountability if it’s struggling with these common symptoms:
- Low employee morale
- Unclear priorities
- Declining engagement
- Ineffective execution
- Trust erosion
- Higher turnover
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, it trickles down and is spread throughout the team.
Common Accountability Pitfalls
Below are three common pitfalls we often witness with leaders and teams to create ACCOUNTABILITY and manager best practices to overcome them:
1. 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 started to have conversations with his team members that were skilled and structured. One critical tool used in Fierce Accountability is to reframe the excuse.
Instead of saying, “OK.” Daniel asked, “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 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. Daniel started to have different conversations, and the results did change.
2. 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,” something we frequently call a Culture of Nice.
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.
3. Managers underestimate their role in building accountability.
We find that managers, especially young managers, are quick to build a process or want to implement a system of working before addressing the root cause issues of why accountability doesn’t exist. Although it may be nice to set up a system or methodology and then coast for a while, the harsh reality is that this is not the case.
Managers play a key role in the ongoing conversation. They can not just point to systems and processes to solve this challenge. Continuing with direct one-to-ones and making sure that you are addressing anything that arises is key.
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.
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.
Share this blog. And remind them: 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. Daniel started to have different conversations with his team, and in turn, there were different results. His team members came with more solutions and ownership over time.
These changes do not happen overnight. 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.