Let me start with a story you may have heard about four people named Everybody, Somebody, Anybody, and Nobody. There was an important job to be done and Everybody was asked to do it. Everybody was sure Somebody would do it. Anybody could have done it, but Nobody did it. Somebody got angry about this, because it was Everybody’s job. Everybody thought Anybody could do it but Nobody realized that Everybody would not do it. It so happened in the end that Everybody blamed Somebody when Nobody did what Anybody could have done.
I often see leaders struggling with inculcating a sense of ownership within their teams. These leaders themselves are often very driven which makes it harder for them to understand why others don’t take more ownership. The question they often ask is how do we get them to do so. There are a few things that leaders need to do to inculcate a sense of ownership in their people like sharing the vision, inclusiveness and open communication through feedback and effective delegation. At the core of ownership however comes accountability. When most leaders are looking for ownership in their people, what they want is a strong sense of accountability and responsibility from them towards their job and the organization.
Accountability is about delivering on a commitment. It is responsibility to an outcome, not just a set of tasks. It is taking initiative with thoughtful, strategic follow-through. It is necessary at all levels of the hierarchy. Think about it, senior executives cannot really be accountable unless the people who report to them also follow through on their commitments. I have seen leaders direct, question, and plead. I have seen them yell or act passive-aggressively in frustration because they don’t understand how to hold people to what is expected from them.
One reason where people managers hesitate in attempting to do anything about making their employees accountable is because it tends to get confused with micromanagement.
Accountability is about trusting your employees to do the right thing. Micromanagement is based on a lack of trust. Micromanagement does have a bad reputation and is of course not a desired behaviour in most situations (there are some specific exception situations where micromanagement is required). Typically, employees become unmotivated when micromanaged, and it is a waste of time for everyone involved.
However, as a people manager, you cannot never check in with your employees and let them do whatever they want, right? There has to be some control.
So, managers are in a tough spot. How do you balance the two? How do you walk that thin line and keep your team in check while not looking like you are hovering over them? How do you not be too lax with your team or go the other extreme and turn into a micromanaging monster?
While I want to say the best thing to do is to trust your employees and expect them to perform their best, it is a bit of a risky idea especially if you have a limited circle of control. If you avoid the micromanaging and then the employee doesn’t meet their results, that is on you.
A good leader will emphasize the importance of accountability and get everyone on the team to understand what and who they are accountable to. Managers are accountable for their team, so it’s important that they lead by example.
At the end of the day, deep down employees want to be held accountable for their work. It gives them deeper satisfaction and a sense of accomplishment. A research of more than 5400 senior level managers by Harvard Business Review found that one out of every two managers is terrible at accountability. This is the single biggest thing that managers avoid doing. This comes from wanting to maintain a favourable image, be popular, not rub people the wrong way and avoid having difficult conversations. This may come from 360 feedbacks becoming a norm, so worrying about being rated by your employee.
There are steps people managers can take to make their employees more accountable:
1.Setting clear expectations
This is at the crux of holding your people accountable. This means being clear about the outcome you are looking for. Thinking of questions like how you will measure success and how people will go about achieving the objective. It does not all have to come from you. There is a difference between setting rules and expectations.
2. Discuss accountability openly
Is the idea of accountability a subject avoided in your organization? It should not be. In-fact, often the first and second level managers do not even realise that lack of accountability is the core reason people are not finishing the tasks that have been delegated to them. Leaders must get everyone acquainted and comfortable with the idea of holding each other accountable. It may be a good practise during team meetings to ask how will we hold each other accountable for this task. This opens up the conversation and gets everyone comfortable thinking about accountability. Use story telling and past examples within the organization to emphasize its value. On this issue, a good rule of thumb is communicating more than required.
3. Use data and technology
A great way to build a culture of accountability is through data. Put constructs in place to track data to go back to for e.g. a calendar invite for follow-up on both ends etc. Take the help of technology to track or support this data driven approach.
4. Work with them to make a plan
Make your people part of the process when you delegate or set goals. Get a sense on where they are on their motivation scale to take on those responsibilities. Do they have the skills and resources to accomplish it well? If they don’t, what is plan b? If this is not done, you set them up for failure. Co-create the action plan with them. Closing it with hearing a summary verbalised by them is a good first step to ensure some accountability on the action plan.
5. Address issues head on
Often times managers fail to communicate issues or performance problems, either because they are worried about being a nit-picker, or don’t have the energy to deal with every problem that crops up. However, if you don’t communicate with your team when they make mistakes, you prolong their learning process. Embrace mistakes, nobody likes mistakes. Creating a safe environment where making mistakes does not scare your people improves accountability.
6. Clarify consequences
If you have followed all the steps and been clear in all of the above ways, you can be fairly confident that you did whatever was necessary to support their performance. If you still do not see the desired ownership, you have the following three choices:
Repeat: Repeat the steps above if you feel that there is still a lack of clarity in the system.
Reward: If the person succeeded in some part of their job, reward them appropriately through acknowledgement, promotion or a bonus whatever applies best.
Release: If you do not see any improvement in their sense of ownership or accountability you have implemented the measures listed above, then they are probably not a good fit for the role and should be released from it by either changing the role or firing them.
These are the building blocks for a culture of accountability. The magic is in the way they work together as a system. If you miss any one, accountability will fall through that gap, however there are steps you can take on your end to try and correct this issue, especially if it is more common than not in your team or organization.
The views expressed in this article are not those of Fortune India
The author is the founder and CEO of Talent Power Partners a global Leadership Development company based in Bangalore. She is a Leadership Development Specialist, an ICF Certified Executive Coach [PCC] and author of the book Team Decision Making.