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Four Ways To Hold Accountability With Ease

It happens all the time. Someone fails to follow through. They don’t do what they said they’d do. They’re late delivering a project... again. They turn in subpar work.

As a manager or team member, what do you do? How do you hold someone accountable in a way that creates positive behavior change versus resentment and negativity?

This is the challenge so many leaders face.

Not only are missed deadlines and failed expectations incredibly frustrating, but they negatively impact your ability to conduct business and, perhaps more significantly, erode team trust and performance.

Because holding accountability can sometimes feel uncomfortable, here’s what many of us do:

• Avoid it. “I’m sure they’ll do better next time. I don’t have time to address it now, so let’s just move on.”

• Become passive-aggressive. “Well, it would have been nice to get this to our client on time, but I guess this will have to do.”

• Pick up the slack ourselves. “I’ll just do the work myself instead of following up with Don. It’ll be faster/easier that way.”

• Blow up/blame/shame. “Why the hell didn’t you get this to me on time? You’re such a failure!”

These actions make it less likely team members will do what you’re hoping they do in the future. They're also not conducive to a high-performance team and, in the worst case, create a toxic culture.

So what should you do?

What I can tell you after coaching and training thousands of leaders is when it comes to following through on projects and holding accountability, this is what works:

1. Start with clarity of the goal itself.

People often fail to follow through because we aren’t specific on what the outcome should look like. There’s a difference between saying, “I’m going to work out this week,” and “I’m going to the gym twice this week, on Tuesday and Thursday mornings, for 60 minutes before work.”

If we’re not crystal clear on what success looks like, how will we know we’ve achieved it?

Tip: If someone failed to follow through or performed differently than you had hoped, ask, “What wasn’t clear here? Where could I have been more explicit in my expectations?”

2. Create a road map with mile markers.

Despite our best intentions, everyone is prone to get off track. That’s why creating a way to track your progress is key to following through.

Not only does this keep you and your team on track, but it allows individuals to hold themselves accountable when it’s clear if they’ve hit the mark or not. And it gives them time to course-correct before it’s too late.

Tip: Develop a method for measuring progress. This can look like an Excel spreadsheet, a shared calendar, a Kanban board or any other project management tool. The key is to make sure it is accessible and used by everyone on the project.

3. Review your outcomes regularly.

Yes, the pace of business moves fast, and the act of setting and regularly checking in on measurable goals creates accountability in itself. Read: No tense conversations needed!

Tip: Schedule a dedicated point in time to review goals, assess the strategy and learn about the progress (or lack thereof) toward the goal.

4. Remember that most people actually crave structure.

It might feel challenging in the moment to have these check-ins, but know that by holding accountability, you’re building trust and credibility, and most people appreciate it even if they’re the ones being held accountable.

What is one goal of yours that could benefit from the four steps above?

Originally published in Forbes on October 26, 2023.


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