One of the issues I hear most consistently from senior leaders, managers, and supervisors is their daily struggle to hold staff members and teams accountable for performance or for values. One senior leader recently told me, “It’s so hard to hold people accountable when you’ve known them for years and years. I just wish they’d do what they said they’d do!”

I spent 15 years in non-profit management and, honestly, I experienced the same struggles. I believed that:

  • My staff members should know what they are supposed to do.
  • They should be committed to doing it, and
  • What the heck is going on now? They’re not delivering and I’m frustrated.

(That’s a lot of “shoulds” in one belief, isn’t it?)

The reality is that, without consequence management, you are not leading, you are creating chaos. Your credibility is maintained, day by day, when you do what you say you will do. For example, if you announce that, from this point forward, every team member will be expected to demonstrate our team’s valued behaviors, you have set a standard. Educating team members about desired valued behaviors is important, but, without accountability, those valued behaviors are just one more set of expectations that your employees can ignore.

In this scenario, unless you proactively praise those who demonstrate desired valued behaviors (positive consequences) and coach/redirect those who do not demonstrate desired valued behaviors (negative consequences), the standard you set is not real. If the standards you set are not real, then your team members cannot trust your word, your feedback, your coaching, or your direction. The result? Chaos.

One of my best bosses, Jerry Nutter, helped me learn that accountability is really not that complicated. Jerry taught me that holding people accountable involves three steps, all of which are the leader’s responsibility.

Three Steps

  1. Clear Expectations: Begin by formalizing your expectations. Ken Blanchard says that all good performance starts with clear goals. Describe the outcome in specific terms: “Your goal is to reduce waste on your team’s shift by 10% by the end of the month.” Formalize the expectation in writing (hard copy or electronic, whichever works for you and your team member).
    This step isn’t finished until you gain agreement by the responsible player to meet or exceed the expectation.
  2. Proactive Observation: Seek information about your team member’s performance on that expectation. Take time to watch your team member working on the goal or task. Create feedback channels so that the team member’s key internal and/or external customers can provide you with their perceptions about goal or task delivery (or progress). Gather and review these data points so you will be confident of the team member’s performance on that expectation.
  3. Consequence Management: Apply the appropriate consequences. If they are doing what they committed to do, praise, encourage, and reward the team member. If they are not doing what they committed to to, engage them in a conversation to understand why progress has not been made. If you learn that it is an ability problem (i.e. circumstances have gotten in the way of their performance on this goal or task or they do not have the skills to complete the task), you may have to renegotiate the deadline, provide training, etc. If you learn it is a motivation problem, coaching, redirection, or even a reprimand will help them learn that you’re watching and you require they deliver on their commitment.

One thought – in most organizations, leaders and employees alike believe they are not praised or encouraged regularly. There are a lot of good things that employees do every day – be sure to praise and encourage legitimate progress towards goal accomplishment. If you are seen as a leader that praises and encourages regularly – as well as coaches and redirects when that’s needed – you will go a long ways towards creating mutual trust and respect.

If you struggle with holding staff members accountable, try this approach. Give it time and stay committed to this accountability strategy. Over time, your staff will learn that when you say something, you mean it, and you will hold them accountable for their agreements. Your employees will be more satisfied, your customers will receive higher quality products and services from your team, and you will not “should” yourself to an early grave!

How well are consequences managed (proactively) in your organization? Do people keep their promises and honor their commitments without consequence management in your company? Share your experiences in the comments section below.

S. Chris Edmonds

Chris helps leaders create purposeful, positive, productive work cultures. He's a speaker, author, and executive consultant. He blogs, podcasts, and video casts. He is the author of two Amazon bestsellers: Good Comes First (2021) and The Culture Engine (2014).
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