5 Actionable Steps to Hold People Accountable Without Being a Jerk

Accountability is challenging, as you know. 

You will want to hold people accountable for meeting performance and behavioral standards but don’t want to come across as a jerk.

Here are five action steps that can help you to do that.

1. Clarify your expectations.

I found that the fault was usually mine, whenever one of my subordinates did not meet my expectations.

I did not set clear expectations. My subordinates did what they thought I wanted, but their mind-reading abilities were limited.

I learned to look in the mirror first when my expectations weren’t met.

Clarify your performance expectations and values using the 4Ws: Who + What + Why + When.

  • Who: is responsible
  • What: you want them to do
  • Why: the outcomes or results you expect (use the magic words, “so that”)
  • When: the due date

Let your subordinates figure out how they are going to get the intended results on time.

Adding “so that” forces you to communicate the intended result precisely.

Use this approach with every task, and you will find that people get the outcomes you want on time.

2. Provide examples using the 3A’s.

For your core expectations and values, specify what acceptable, awesome, and awful look like, so everyone has a clear picture.

Having your employees co-create the 3As increases buy-in and improves accountability. 

When you have made your behavioral expectations obvious, contrary behavior stands out sharper and is much easier to address.

There is a direct correlation between expectations and results.

3. Set the right example.

If you go with me to a U.S. Civil War battlefield (the next opportunity is June 13-16), you will notice statues of leaders on horses.

Leaders rode horses, not because they were lazy or privileged. They could see better from up high, but the most important reason was to set the right example.

Anyone on a horse was the biggest target on the battlefield. Everyone on the enemy side was shooting at them.

Being on horseback sent a message: I’m the most vulnerable person on the battlefield and you can see me doing my job and standing my ground.

Setting an example for your employees also makes you the most vulnerable person in the company, because everyone is watching you to see if you walk the talk. 

Accountability works when you apply the expectations equally to everyone.

Accountability starts with you.

When you hold yourself accountable to meet performance and behavioral expectations, everyone will accept being held to the same standards.

4. Don’t play favorites.

Rules are arbitrary if they apply to some people on some days and not others.

Going back to point #1, when the expectations are clear, you reduce the fogginess.

You can have objective conversations about accountability rather than emotional ones.

5. Feed-Forward.

Accountability is about shaping behavior. If you set up people for success, most of your accountability will be a celebration. 

Feeding forward means to focus on improving future performance rather than rehashing past performance (feedback). 

Did someone fail to perform the task? Determine what circumstances led to that shortfall and identify ways the person can overcome those difficulties “try it this way … do a little less of x and a little more of y.” 

Did the task not achieve the intended results? You can determine if the shortcoming was poor implementation or if you have a task – outcome mismatch. 

Was the task not done on time? You can find out if your priorities are confusing, if resources are inadequate, or if your subordinate is overloaded.

That’s it!

  1. Clarify your expectations using the 4Ws.
  2. Provide examples using the 3As.
  3. Set the right example.
  4. Don’t play favorites.
  5. Feedforward.

What is your top takeaway from this article? Write a comment, DM me on LinkedIn, or email me at chris@strategicleadersacademy.com.

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