Working with various clients and in a number of coaching calls, we’ve found that many High Performing Leaders struggle holding their team accountable.
While accountability is an uncomfortable topic for many leaders, it is essential in any organization. It is the foundation of trust and integrity, which are crucial in building a successful team and high performance cultures.
When it comes to leadership accountability, it is even more important as leaders set the tone for the organization’s culture and its performance. Leaders who hold their team members accountable not only drive their organizations towards success but also create a culture of excellence and mutual trust.
Here we will discuss the importance of leadership accountability, the consequences of poor accountability, the reasons for leaders’ fear of accountability, why team members are afraid of accountability, and how leaders can hold their team members accountable.
The Importance of Team Member Accountability
Leaders who hold their team members accountable set the standard for the organization. They demonstrate the importance of deadlines, quality, and expectations. When team members are held accountable, they are more likely to take their work seriously, leading to better performance and productivity. In addition, accountability creates a culture of responsibility and ownership. Team members are more likely to take ownership of their work and the success of the organization.
Holding team members accountable helps leaders identify areas where improvements are needed. Leaders can identify gaps in skills, training, and communication, which can then be addressed. This leads to a continuous improvement cycle, which can result in higher quality work and better outcomes.
Leaders Accountability to Their Team Members
Leaders must lead by example. This means that they must be accountable to their team members, just as they expect their team members to be accountable to them. When leaders are accountable to their team members, they demonstrate the importance of honesty, integrity, and transparency. This creates a culture of mutual trust, where team members feel safe to share their opinions and ideas.
When leaders hold themselves accountable for their actions and decisions, they demonstrate to their team members the importance of taking ownership and responsibility for their work. This, in turn, leads to team members feeling empowered and motivated to perform their best.
Empowered leaders who lead by example create a sense of integrity and credibility within the organization. When team members see their leaders walking the talk and taking responsibility for their actions, they are more likely to trust them and follow their lead. This trust and respect create a positive work environment where team members feel valued and respected. This further encourages team members to hold themselves to higher levels of accountability. They can see the benefits through their leader’s example.
When no individual is exempted from this loop of accountability, no one will feel as if they are personally being “picked on” or singled out among their peers negatively. When everyone is accountable, the only ones who stand out are those who are not meeting their commitments.
Consequences of Poor Accountability
Poor accountability can have significant consequences for an organization. When team members are not held accountable, they may not take their work seriously, leading to low-quality work and missing or even dismissing deadlines. This can damage the reputation of the organization and lead to lost business opportunities. In addition, poor accountability can result in a toxic work environment, where team members blame each other for mistakes and avoid taking ownership of their work. This can lead to low morale, high turnover, and a negative culture.
Furthermore, poor accountability can have legal and financial consequences. For example, if an organization fails to comply with regulations or laws, it can face legal action and financial penalties. Similarly, if an organization fails to meet its contractual obligations, it can lose business and face financial penalties.
As you can see, poor accountability can very quickly spill over and spread like a horrible fungus through the work environment, making work toxic and dangerous for everyone, including customers!
Consequences, by definition, are the results or effects that follow from a particular action or decision. They can be positive or negative, and they are essential to creating a sense of accountability in the workplace. When consequences are clear and consistent, they help team members understand the importance of their actions and their impact on the business’s success.
One of the most critical aspects of consequences is that they must be communicated clearly and in advance. When team members understand the potential outcomes of their actions, they are more likely to take their responsibilities seriously and work to meet their commitments. Additionally, clear communication ensures that everyone is on the same page and understands the expectations.
Positive consequences can be used to reinforce good behaviour and motivate team members to continue performing at a high level. For example, an employee who consistently exceeds expectations could be given a promotion or a bonus as a reward for their hard work. Positive consequences recognize good performance and create a positive and productive workplace high performance culture that encourages team members to strive for excellence.
On the other hand, negative consequences must be used sparingly and only as a last resort. When team members fail to meet their commitments or exhibit problematic behaviour, negative consequences are necessary to ensure accountability. However, it’s important to note that negative consequences should be fair, consistent, and proportional to the offence.
For example, a team member who consistently misses deadlines despite repeated warnings may need to face consequences such as a no, or low pay increase, demotion, or even termination. However, these consequences should be used as a last resort and only after other measures have been exhausted. Negative consequences should also be communicated clearly in advance so that team members understand the seriousness of their actions and the potential outcomes. It’s important to note that consequences should be applied equally and fairly to all team members. Inconsistent or unfair consequences can quickly erode trust and undermine accountability. Leaders must be consistent in their application of consequences and ensure that they are aligned with the values and goals of the business.
Ultimately, consequences are essential in maintaining accountability in business. They provide a clear incentive for team members to meet their commitments and perform at a high level. By communicating consequences clearly and fairly, leaders can create a culture of accountability that fosters a sense of ownership and responsibility among team members.
Leader’s Fear &Hesitation to Holding Team Members Accountable
Despite the importance of holding team members accountable, many leaders hesitate or fear doing so. This can be due to several reasons, including:
Fear of Conflict: Many leaders avoid holding team members accountable because they want to avoid conflict. They may worry that holding team members accountable will damage relationships or cause further interpersonal damage.
Lack of Communication Skills: Some leaders lack the communication skills to hold team members accountable. They may struggle to provide feedback or address issues in a constructive and respectful manner.
Fear of Losing Talent: Some leaders may hesitate to hold team members accountable because they fear losing talent. They may worry that holding team members accountable will lead to high turnover or that team members will become resentful and disengaged.
Fear of Offending: Most commonly, leaders fear they will offend or hurt team members’ feelings when trying to create accountability. This fear is a combination of all the above.
How To Move Past These Fears
Fear of Conflict:
1) Develop Conflict Resolution Skills: Leaders can learn conflict resolution skills, such as active listening, empathy, and problem-solving, to handle conflict effectively.
2) Establish Clear Expectations: Leaders can establish clear expectations with team members, including performance standards, goals, and deadlines. This helps avoid misunderstandings and conflict in the future.
3) Provide Constructive Feedback: Leaders can provide constructive feedback, focusing on specific behaviours and actions rather than personality or character. (Future post?)
Lack of Communication Skills:
1) Invest in Communication Training: Leaders can invest in communication training to improve their communication skills, including active listening, effective feedback, and non-verbal communication. Try looking at LinkedIn and Teachable for these types of programs if they are not offered internally at your company.
2) Practice Open Communication: Leaders can practice open communication, including regular check-ins, team meetings, and one-on-one discussions. This helps create a culture of open communication and feedback.
3) Seek Feedback: Leaders can seek feedback from team members on their communication style, including areas for improvement and strengths. Learn how your team best responds to feedback and try to work accordingly when giving difficult feedback.
Fear of Losing Talent:
1) Focus on Development: Leaders can focus on developing team members, including coaching, mentoring, and training. This helps improve performance and increase retention. In fact, providing higher levels of accountability can be an integral part of a retention strategy.
2) Provide Opportunities for Growth: Leaders can provide opportunities for growth, including challenging assignments, cross-functional projects, and skill-building activities. This helps keep team members engaged and motivated. Be sure to only offer such opportunities to deserving team members. If one team member is particularly struggling to meet commitments, adding to their workload with high profile tasks/opportunities will cause more harm than good.
3) Set Clear Expectations: Leaders can set clear expectations with team members, including performance standards, goals, and career paths. This helps team members understand what is expected of them and how they can progress in their careers. In some cases, locating or creating job descriptions outlining such expectations and requirements for the position in question might be helpful.
Fear of Offending:
1) Focus on Behaviours, Not People: Leaders can focus on specific behaviours and actions rather than personality or character. This helps keep the conversation constructive and avoids personal attacks.
2) Emphasize the Positive: Leaders can emphasize the positive, including team members’ strengths and contributions. This helps balance constructive feedback with positive reinforcement. Try the two positives and one opportunity approach: Start the meeting with two positives
and pointing out where the team member has recently been successful and what specifically did they do that contributed to the successes. Next identify one opportunity for improvement, giving detailed specific examples and being careful to remove any personality or character accusations. Stick to the facts. “Project x was delayed by 3 days with no communication or explanation. Is there something that I don’t know about that caused this to take place?” End the conversation by coming up with a plan of action that meets both parties’ expectations and prevents the incident from reoccurring.
3) Create a Safe Space: Leaders can create a safe space for feedback and communication where team members feel comfortable sharing their thoughts and opinions. This helps build trust and fosters a culture of open communication. You can do this by providing support, and asking the team member what kind of assistance or help they may need to meet their commitments.
Ways to Enforce Accountability
Understanding the importance of accountability and the different strategies for overcoming anxieties of approaching accountability with your team, it’s time to talk about concrete ways to enforce it. After all, accountability cannot happen if there is no consequence for unaccountability or inactive behaviour. While not all transgressions warrant such drastic results as termination or formal warnings, several proactive approaches remain to “turning up the heat” and holding team members accountable.
1) More Frequent Status Reviews and Check-Ins: Regular status reviews and check-ins provide valuable opportunities for team members to share progress updates and discuss any challenges they are facing. By increasing the frequency of these interactions, leaders can foster accountability and keep a close eye on project advancement. Frequent check-ins also enable timely feedback and corrective actions, allowing the team to address issues before they escalate.
2) Breaking Down Larger Deliverables: Sometimes, complex or lengthy deliverables can lack transparency and accountability. Breaking them down into smaller, more manageable tasks allows for better tracking of progress and provides more frequent opportunities to assess performance. Regularly reviewing these smaller milestones helps identify potential bottlenecks or areas where additional support may be required. This is a great way to provide support while maintaining accountability.
3) Scheduling Reviews at Less “Popular” Times: Leaders can ensure that team members remain attentive and engaged by scheduling status reviews and meetings at less convenient times, such as early mornings or late afternoons. This approach prompts individuals to take accountability for their time management, encouraging punctuality and focused participation. It also demonstrates the team leader’s commitment to fostering accountability throughout the organization.
4) Temporarily Reassigning “Liked” Responsibilities: To address accountability issues, team leaders may consider temporarily reassigning tasks or responsibilities that struggling team members particularly enjoy. This approach can be a powerful motivator for improved performance as individuals realize the consequences of their actions and strive to regain the projects they had previously enjoyed. It also encourages a more balanced distribution of workload and prevents complacency.
5) Removing Perceived Perks until Performance Improves: If team members are consistently underperforming, leaders might temporarily withdraw certain perceived perks, such as the option to work remotely or flexible scheduling. Leaders encourage accountability and a strong work ethic by aligning these privileges with consistent, high-quality performance. However, it is important to communicate clearly the conditions for reinstating these benefits, ensuring that team members understand the expectations and goals they need to meet.
Holding team members accountable is crucial for achieving project success and maintaining a high-performance culture. By implementing strategies such as more frequent status reviews, breaking down deliverables, scheduling reviews at less convenient times, temporarily reassigning responsibilities, and adjusting perceived perks, leaders can effectively turn up the heat and foster a culture of accountability within their teams. These approaches promote individual responsibility and contribute to overall team productivity and success.
Accountability is crucial for effective leadership and business success, but many leaders face various reservations and challenges that hinder them from maintaining it. These include conflict avoidance, communication skills, fear of losing talent, and anxiety about offending team members. Overcoming these concerns requires leaders to approach accountability with empathy, active listening, and a focus on problem-solving rather than blame. Leaders can also invest in communication training and coaching to improve their communication skills, provide regular feedback and coaching to their team members, and create a culture of accountability that promotes individual and organizational growth. Ultimately, having consequences in business is essential to maintain accountability and promote a high performance culture of responsibility and ownership. Leaders must take action when team members fail to meet expectations or violate policies to maintain accountability and ensure the success of the business.