The Leadership Blog

Four Ways to Improve Accountability

accountability career goals communication growth leadership making a positive impact Aug 09, 2023

As a leader, how effective are you at holding your direct reports accountable?  

Data shows 82 percent of managers admit they have limited to no ability to hold others accountable.  That’s a really concerning number but not surprising when you think about how people usually get promoted into leadership positions.  People get promoted because they excel in their functional areas.  While they may be exceptional in finance, sales, fundraising or production, they have zero experience in leading others and holding them accountable.  When we promote people, we tend to say thanks for being great at your job, now I’m going to give you a raise and expect you to be good at doing things you’ve never done before and I’m not going to equip you with the tools to learn how to lead your team and hold them accountable.  Good Luck!

Research shows 91 percent of employees state learning how to hold people accountable is one of their company’s top leadership needs.  No surprise there. Gallup research showed only 14 percent of employees believe their performance is managed in a way that motivates them, 26 percent get feedback less than once a year and 70 percent of employees believe their managers aren’t objective in performance evaluations.

Many leaders are only looking for performance issues to address, instead of creating pathways for success and connection with their subordinates.  Leaders should share feedback often both good and corrective.

I found these great strategies in Harvard Business Review that can help us equip our teams.

Deepen connections between leaders and direct reports. This happens when we trade monthly and quarterly check-ins where people provide generic updates with questions like, “What did you learn this month?  What do you feel most proud of? Where did you struggle?” These questions help team members share stories of achievement and problems.

Increase the quality of feedback. You can do this when dignity, not surveillance, becomes the goal of accountability.  When your direct reports believe you are genuinely interested in their success, they feel less guarded and less inclined to hide performance issues.  They’ll ask for help more often.

Focus on Fairness

People are four times more likely to be honest when they feel they’re being treated fairly.  Imagine if you only heard from your boss when you were doing something wrong.  You’d want to run the other way every time you saw them coming. Here’s the challenge.  In an attempt to avoid litigation, our corporate systems have often confused sameness with fairness.  We need to treat people equally but recognize that every person learns and processes differently.  As leaders we need to meet them where they are.  I know this isn’t easy, but it’s absolutely necessary to empower and equip our teams and hold them accountable for results that help us move our organizations forward.

Make Restoration, not blame, the goal.  Corporate structures often lead employees to hide mistakes out of fear.  We may say we want people to feel comfortable with learning from failure but that’s difficult to turn into a culture in most organizations.  This takes a lot of positive, honest conversation.  When the quality of a team member's work doesn’t meet our organization’s level of excellence, that's how I describe it to them, then I show them how they can make it better. I tell them I believe with time and practice they will be able to hit the bar and soar over it.  As leaders we need to extend our belief in others to them until they can develop the necessary skills that help them believe in themselves.  I remind staff, Rome wasn’t built in a day, and I’ll share LinkedIN Learning videos or other resources to help teach them how to improve.   

The issue of accountability is incredibly complex, but these four tips can help equip our leaders to gain the necessary skills to become more effective at holding people accountable and that will help our organizations become stronger and more successful.