How to Create Positive Accountability

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I’ve met and spoken to a number of leaders over the years. They speak about how they hated being micromanaged, yet they sometimes find themselves doing it to their own teams. They share that when tasks need to be carried out and deadlines are looming, they had to constantly ask for updates and sometimes even do some of the work themselves. In the end, they feel exhausted and disappointed in their team and in themselves as leaders.

Imagine a day when you don’t have to follow up on other people’s tasks. You can trust everyone to be focused and fully committed to getting things done. If they have a problem, they solve it -- or if they can’t, they immediately let you know so you can work together on unblocking them. They coordinate with each other without being told. At meetings, they say the best words a team leader can hear: “We have met the deadline.”

Is this a workplace fairy tale? No, it’s the culture of positive accountability.

What is positive accountability?

Accountability is often phrased negatively: “I own up to my mistakes and delays.” It brings back childhood feelings of being scolded and grounded for breaking a rule. Employees hate that, and team leaders hate it too! We don’t like playing the Bad Cop, and we also get tired of policing everyone else’s work. It takes time and energy away from our own management responsibilities.

But let’s see accountability in a more positive light:

  • Accountability means impact. “I am an important part of this team. My work influences  the project, the company, and the culture.”

  • Accountability means freedom. “I have control over my choices and results.”

  • Accountability means trust. “I am reliable, and so are my other team members and team leader.”

How do you create this culture of accountability?

Clarity

“In a WorkPlace Accountability Survey of over 40,000 employees, 85% indicated they did not have a clear understanding of their organization's top three to four Key Results, or results that are strategically critical to the success of the organization,” reports Inc.

All companies say that they have Key Results Areas, but how are these cascaded to the rest of the employees? Are you giving out too many goals? Or do the goals change too often, sidetracked by sudden “rush projects” and new directions?

“When we are sending multiple messages about what is critical and what others are accountable for, accountability dissipates,” says Forbes.

Write down four Key Results Areas that have the biggest impact on the business. Align tasks with each result. Measure the impact of each task, too – this can help you and your team set up a priority system. Remember: if everything is a priority, nothing is a priority.

Control

Control means each employees are empowered to do their job well. They have the right resources, information, structures, process and management support.

As a team leader, you shouldn’t be micromanaging tasks – you should be empowering your people. “What do you need to do what you do best, in the most efficient way?”

Micromanagement is a symptom that they don’t feel they can do their job. Find out why. Is it a problem with the task, the workflow or workload? Or have they become emotionally disengaged – a deeper, more critical problem that needs immediate attention?

Team Skills

While personal accountability is (as the term implies) personal, our actions and results are affected by how we work with the rest of the team. Many tasks fall apart because of lack of communication, collaboration and conflict resolution.

That’s when finger pointing and resentment begin, and team trust starts to erode. Left unchecked, this can create an even bigger problem than missed deadlines: workplace depression.   

Numerous studies published in management journals – including Wickham & Hall and Breaux, Monyon et. al show that accountability can have a dark and negative effect in an unsupportive work environment. Employees become physically and mentally exhausted, anxious from politics, and unable to ask for help. It’s a recipe for burnout and chronic stress.

Even the most competent and responsible star players need the support and positive energy of a solid team. However, “being a team player” is not an inherent talent or personality trait – it is taught and reinforced. (Read Grow’s article on How to Turn Smart People Into a Smart Team). Creating a team culture and teaching team skills are a management priority – not just to build accountability, but to create emotional support and fuel personal satisfaction.  

Get The Tools to Grow Positive Accountability

Start a culture of positive accountability in your workplace! Grow is an online platform for personal, professional and leadership development. Its feedback tools, development plan and progress monitoring can help you and your team:

·       Take ownership of your work, career and your impact on the organization

·       Communicate, collaborate and work better together

·       Understand your personal strengths, skills and sphere of influence

Contact Grow and bring positive accountability into your workplace.

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Originally published on LinkedIn by Rudi Ramin