Better Communication = Better Accountability = Better Management
Driving and holding people accountable for their job responsibilities, goals, and projects is not only akin to herding cats, it’s most likely the most difficult managerial responsibility across the board. Some managers are good at it; most however are not. It’s the one area of every manager’s performance that if he or she could do it really well, the rest of the job would become much more enjoyable.
As managers, dealing with employees is where the most time and effort is spent. This is why so many of us work late or come in early, because we seek that “quiet time” when we can actually get our work done. We can’t get our work done during the normal business hours because we are fighting fires — perhaps dealing with employees who don’t show up on time, can’t effectively deal with each other, or are under-delivering on job responsibilities. So we end up constantly troubleshooting, looking for solutions, or just plain doing their work for them.
If you were to leverage one management capability — the ability to drive and hold people accountable — a targeted lift here can produce the most significant improvement to your business, your business results, and your business culture. If there is one place to spend your training dollars this year, this is the one managers need most. With just a few critical skills, you can effectively leverage dramatic performance improvement across the board.
Accountability is Not a Process — It’s a Value and a Few Critical Skills
In the age of technology, companies want to make it easier for managers to create accountability. They tend to do this with a lot of “reporting” mechanisms that have managers evaluating and measuring based on metrics and budgets among other things. While some of this is important when it comes to understanding organizational performance. Driving individual accountability cannot be achieved through measurement and matrixes. Driving and fostering employee accountability must be valued in the first instance by the individual manager who must achieve and maintain performance accountability. It must also be developed as a skill — a communication skill.
Accountability is Relationship Based
Why is it so difficult to hold people accountable? Why is it difficult to ask why a report consistently misses the deadline? Why a person is always late? Why important phone calls are not made? Why critical responsibilities are not met? Why no ownership is taken? Management relationships are tricky. They are key relationships that if handled poorly are the number one reason people quit their jobs. So managers, in an effort to not offend, tend to talk around the issues, couch the real problems, or wait to address them until it’s too late and it makes no difference. All this is generally done out of fear — fear of breaking the relationship, fear of the tough conversation, but mostly fear of emotion — the resulting anger or hostility that can occur when employees may perceive they are being cornered or simply feeling guilty for not delivering. In the end, everyone feels inadequate so it’s not surprising that no one wants to talk about it.
Strong managers who capably hold people accountable, do so by forging relationships based on respect. They are open, honest, and provide critical feedback at the time it’s needed, not after the fact. Strong managers not only listen, but they also hear. They can handle the emotion. It sounds so simple. But there is a difference between honesty and brutality, as well as feedback and criticism. How skilled are your managers in walking that line? Strong managers build trust as part of the conversation. Strong managers work for mutual gain achieving results for themselves, the organization, and the individual contributor.
Your Conversations are Your Relationships
How are your managerial relationships built? How is trust built? One conversation at a time. The kind of conversations you have with your employees is a direct reflection of the strength of those relationships. If they are shallow, strained, contrived, meaningless — this is the relationship. An employee will not take you seriously and will give you not respect.
Conversely, if you tell the truth, are straight-forward without being brutal and without sugar-coating, and go straight to the point you are far more likely to forge relationships that are respectful and productive.
Focus on the Performance Not the Result
What is the difference between a performance issue vs. a business issue? This is a key concept in that managers often try to drive accountability by having conversations about business outcomes that were not satisfactory. When behind every business outcome is an individual performance that drove that outcome. If managers only deal with the business issue “a late report” for example, the conversation generally amounts to “you need to get it done on time.” Whereas, if you begin the conversation focused on the performance you may discover some authentic skill deficits, behavioral issues, or process problems that foster the poor outcome. Starting the conversation with “When you knew the report was going to be late, what did you do?” puts the focus on the decisions that were made and these are the ultimate key to personal ownership.
State the Issue – Keep It Simple
The beginning of any conversation about taking ownership and being accountable calls for absolute clarity about what the issue is — what the employee needs to own. We consistently find that managers have trouble both accurately identifying the issue as well as reducing it down to a singular issue in conversation. This allows for conversations to derail easily because employees will hear multiple opportunities to blame others, minimize the importance, or act overwhelmed. All of which leads to round-about conversations about a multitude of things with no real commitment for change or improvement. It can also result in an employee feeling beaten up as there are so many areas under scrutiny they walk away feeling demoralized and incompetent.
Driving accountability calls for dealing with one critical area of performance at a time. The manager must be able to drill down to the core issue that is driving the performance inadequacy.
Deal with Denial
When you begin the conversation about a substandard performance, how often is the response, “You know, you are absolutely right! I have consistently disappointed the team by not participating in the team. Here’s what I think I can do…?” My bet is not often. There is usually some reason or extenuating circumstance or barrier or another person that can be pointed to for an employees inability to deliver on his or her job expectations. True or not, it doesn’t matter. And this is where managers blow it every time. This is what is called “denial.” It is when an employee takes no ownership for his or her performance. Instead of dealing with the denial, managers are effectively derailed into discussing the circumstances or the work habits of another employee or the computer system — the “why” of the under-delivery. When in fact, they should be targeting the employee’s denial of ownership first.
People will only change what they can own. This is why it’s critical to be able to both identify denial and then deal with the denial first, as a person may take either full or partial ownership to an issue. As a manager, you can only deal with what they will own and that is the key. If you ever expect improvement, you must meet them where they own it. You must also know the consequences if they don’t or won’t own it at all.
At Management Possible®, we offer a variety of programs that can help managers learn how to be better leaders. Our OwnUp!™ program can help teach managers how to properly deal with accountability and better communicate with employees. Contact us with any questions you may have!