I conducted a survey in 2023, which revealed that although 93% of workers expect to be held accountable, 66% agreed that they find it difficult to hold others accountable. In a Benchmark survey, almost 1/4 of CEOs listed accountability as their biggest weakness.

So, if you are struggling to hold others accountable, you are not alone.

Thankfully, accountability is a skill we can develop. It’s also a mindset and organizational system. To learn more about how to adopt an accountability mindset, check out Creating an Accountability Mindset.

Developing an Accountability Skillset

There are three key skills that managers can develop to hold their employees accountable whilst still retaining a positive relationship with employees.

1. Start from a place of trust

You can’t have healthy accountability without trust. Although trust is something we build gradually and lose quickly, I like to reference The Trust Equation, from David Maister, Charles H. Green and Robert M. Galford to help understand how to build trust in a relationship to support accountability.

Credibility is easily built. It is expertise.  It is knowing that the person you’re building trust with believes that you have the expertise, understanding and knowledge to do so. You can easily establish this level of trust by explaining your credentials. 

Reliability is built over time. It means that you can be trusted to do what you say you will do.  Characteristics of reliability are being predictable, consistent and dependable. It demonstrates that you meet the promises that you commit to.

Intimacy is a difficult one to build within trust. It’s about someone feeling comfortable that you won’t share information that is inappropriate.  That they can trust that you have their emotional consideration in mind.   That you are empathetic. 

Self-Orientation which when it is high, decreases your overall trust.   It’s about your motives and whether or not you are there for your own benefit or for the benefit of the other person… Low orientation is established by focusing on what’s important to others. High means that you focus only on yourself.

You may find some parts of this equation more difficult for you, and different people weigh different parts of the equation as being more important. What is most important is that you consider how to build trust with others and what might be the reasons behind why you don’t trust someone.

Once uncovered, consider the assumptions behind your beliefs. Once we establish greater trust, we can grow towards compassionate accountability and community with each other.

2. Setting Expectations

Setting clear expectations before we begin work helps set us up for healthy accountability. Negotiating deadlines and results is a positive step. Ensuring we share from our own perspectives helps begin the conversation of accountability along the way to accomplishing what we set out to do.

It’s easier to have a difficult conversation before anything has happened than afterwards.

Be sure to focus on the WWW of expectations:

Why: Why it is important for them to do.  This is your opportunity to create accountability by clarifying the impact of the work they are doing.  Who will it impact if they don’t get it done in time?  How will it connect to the overall team goals or organizational objectives?

What: What do you need them to do?  Consider how much guidance they might need for this specific task.  If they are doing it for the first time, they might need more detailed instructions and/or regular check-ins.  If they’ve done it before, you might be able to let them take the lead on the specifics.

When: When do you need it done?  If possible, engage them in a reasonable timeline by asking, “When do you think you can have this done?”.  But only ask this if the timing is negotiable.  If you have a specific due date in mind, share it and explain why that due date is meaningful (i.e. it’s not just because you want it)

When you set expectations clearly upfront, and make this exercise a dialogue, you will be less likely to hit roadblocks down the road.

3. Giving Feedback

Part of having difficult conversations is giving honest and brave feedback after the fact. This is challenging for managers, and our instinct is to gloss over what went wrong and avoid being specific about where our expectations went unmet.

The Center for Creative Leadership created a model called ‘SBI’, a great framework for delivering effective feedback.  I have built upon this model with two other letters to create ISBIQ:  

  • Intention: This is the opportunity to say why we are giving feedback. This grounds the conversation on the change we want to see and an opportunity to share our compassion and care for those we speak to.  This demonstrates that we offer feedback because we want what is best for the individual.  An example might be, “It’s important to me that you are successful, so I wanted to share some things I have been observing that might help you”
  • Situation: This is the specific situation where you observed something.  This should not be a long list of things they have done wrong.  It allows the person to see a direct, recent example.  For example, “In the meeting we just had…”
  • Behaviour. These are the behaviours that you observed.  Be careful not to use ‘judgment’ words here like “arrogant, lazy or not engaged.”  Instead, use things you can observe, like “You were not making clear eye contact,” “Your tone was loud,” or “You missed that deadline we agreed to.”
  • Impact. What impact did the behaviour have on you, the team or them?   This demonstrates the implications of their actions.  For example, you might say, “You caused me to miss an important deadline”, “The team had to scramble,” or “You came across as disinterested”
  • Questions. The Q is important to remember that this is a dialogue, not a tirade.  Engage them in what happened and how to prevent it in the future.   Asking questions opens the door for accountability to come in, creating an atmosphere for growth and collaboration. 

One additional important note about this model: It can be used to offer corrective feedback or re-enforcing feedback.  In fact, use it for good more often, and you will find yourself creating a culture where feedback is welcome and difficult conversations are not so difficult.

Being “Accountability” Ready

If you start practicing each of these core skills, you will become more comfortable holding others accountable.

If you are looking to strengthen your organization’s accountability muscle, Lighthouse NINE Group offers training and coaching to embed these skills.

Reach out, connect with me on LinkedIn, and let’s empower one another to be our best through good workplace accountability.

HEadshot of Christi Scarrow partner at Lighthouse NINE Group.

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