Recently I have been asked to submit proposals and there is a common theme, a lack of personal accountability amongst the team. With each conversation it becomes clearer and clearer that part of the problem lies with the leaders as they are not holding themselves accountable to the team which means the accountability model the team needs is missing.
Why aren’t leaders holding staff accountable?
Addressing poor performance is tough and can cause feelings of anxiety and discomfort – one person shared that they would rather do the work or fix the problem themself than have the conversation. With a little digging I found a few contributing factors but it would mean working with the leader as a first step.
The leaders I spoke with were conflicted, they wanted their staff to be accountable but they also felt it was their responsibility to make all decisions. This logic translates to – I want you to be accountable but I will not give you the tools or the authority to make it happen.
One solution is to give employees some control or influence over the how, the when, or the what is to be accomplished. If you fail to do this the internal accountability driver is missing and an environment for accountability will not exist.
I want to make sure you have this so I will repeat it. If an environment of accountability does not yet exist your first task is to relinquish some control so your staff have permission and freedom to be solutions driven.
Leading By Example
The second contributing factor was, the leaders had removed themselves from the equation. This simple reflection exercise provides a different lens to look through.
Before addressing accountability ask yourself,
- Were my expectations clear,
- Had we come to an agreement about the expectations,
- Do I endorse a solutions driven approach,
- Does the solution driven approach empower creativity,
- Have boundaries been discussed when creativity is encouraged,
- Was adequate training provided,
- Do I make myself available and open to questions?
If you answered, “yes” to these questions how do you know everyone on the team has the same beliefs?
Asking these questions and having the courage to see areas that could be improved on is a sign of growth and presents an opportunity to demonstrate your own accountability and responsibility. When finding an area to improve, share it with the team. Sharing this type of lesson provides your team with a model to learn from, not only are you demonstrating accountability you are also letting your team know that you have lessons to learn as well.
Seek to explore
The third contributing factor was the context; these leaders were going in with accusations rather than an enquiring mind. This means they were preparing for battle rather than exploration.
You are invited to get curious, when there are slips in judgment investigate by asking enquiring questions. Questions show that you are interested in understanding what you don’t know yet – their ‘why’, and it implies they had made a choice. When you do have this conversation don’t be surprised if you hear “I didn’t know I was allowed to…” or “I wasn’t aware I had the authority to…”
Enquiring questions include:
- What led you to make that decision,
- What alternatives did you consider,
- What made you discount those alternatives,
- If this same situation were to happen again what could you do differently,
- How could I have supported you better in this situation,
- How can we resolve this issue?
Notice the last two points include you – as a leader you need to be there to support your team in the good and the difficult times. The questions have been purposefully worded to encourage your employees to be solutions driven. When people come up with their own solution they are more likely to follow through than when one is provided without their input.
First time users of this approach are encouraged to have patience, as you need to build trust. It is only through repeated use will the team start to understand they have the authority to be solutions driven and believe that you will be there to support them when they step into accepting personal accountability.
The last step is to reinforce with positivity which means acknowledging demonstrated acts of accountability rather than focusing on slips in judgment.
When you choose to practice these techniques I would be interested in hearing your comments and am curious to hear what strategies you use.