9 Ways to Hold Your People Accountable

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I hear you’ve had problems with your employees keeping their commitments.  You deal with the same problems over and again, even though you’ve told people what to do and they agreed to do it.


Somehow, every Monday morning is still spent begging for your weekly reports.  How many times do you have to tell someone what their roles and duties are?  Do they really not know your priorities enough to do the basics of the job?

If your staff have agreed to do something once and they don’t do it, that is a lack of integrity on them, showing an inability to keep their commitments.  If, however, your staff have agreed to do something continually and they don’t do it, that is a lack of accountability on you.

“But doesn’t accountability mean that I have to be the bad guy?  Culture is important in our company, and I don’t want to be the heavy-handed boss that has temper tantrums when things don’t go my way.”

Accountability is not being the jerk.  Rather, accountability is requiring people to keep their commitments, showing people that honesty (including meeting deadlines) is a must in your organization.  Below are 9 ways you can build a culture of accountability in your organization.

1. Meeting Action Steps

During weekly team meetings, delegate someone to take detailed notes.  As action steps arise from the discussion, the note taker should pause the meeting to ensure that the person(s) assigned to the action are clear on the task, the deadline, and that they agree to complete the task by the deadline.  The note taker should publicly review these definitive action steps at the conclusion of each meeting and include them in the meeting minutes, sent to all attendees.

At the beginning of each weekly meeting, review the prior week’s action steps, with a status of Completed or Not.  For any incomplete action steps, the person should state what they will reprioritize to ensure completion of the task within 24 hours.

2. Integrity of Keeping Commitments

Most of us believe we are people of our word.  However, our frequent overcommitting and inability to meet deadlines betrays a lack of integrity, with less emphasis on the veracity of our word than we like to believe.  While the leader should not blame, shame, or condemn, he/she should make the strong connection between breaking commitments and lying.  Appeal to the person’s belief in their own integrity, and show them what “a person of their word” looks like.  Explain to them that every broken commitment also breaks trust with those to whom they committed.  Tell them explicitly that keeping commitments is a necessary aspect of keeping your word.  Point out specific broken commitments that have led to this conversation.  Finally, get them to agree that keeping commitments will become a base standard in their behavior.

3. Saying “No”

Most people break commitments not because of intention, but because of a need to please.  When their plate is full, they are asked to do more, and they inevitably and always say Yes to the added responsibility.  At the time of their commitment, encourage them toward the truth of what they can realistically do.  If you, as their leader, frequently demand that they say Yes amid ridiculous deadlines, then you are enabling their inability to say No.  Instead, ask them if they can realistically complete the new task by the deadline; if they are not confident, help them reprioritize their other tasks so that they can meet the deadline for the new task.  By building a culture that is allowed to say No, you are ensuring that your staff can accomplish tasks on time.

4. The Art of Renegotiation

Most of us have a hesitancy toward confrontation.  When people have committed to a tight deadline, they feel the weight of that deadline and a simultaneous fear of the confrontation that will occur if the deadline is missed.  Rather than letting people know they will likely miss the deadline, they often opt for silence, believing that begging for forgiveness is less painful than begging for permission.

The way of integrity is instead truth and renegotiation.  As soon as the deadline seems it may be in peril, the person of integrity approaches the leader to discuss the complications with the task and resources.  Life and business have constraints, and we can only do so much with limited time and resources.  Bringing all information to the table allows those involved to renegotiate priorities, to realign resources, to all work together to find the best possible ways to meet all deadlines.  Renegotiation is valid and keeps us within the bounds of honesty about our deadlines.  Getting all information on the table as early as possible allows us to remain in truth, which is always better than losing our integrity with our coworkers.

5. Project Management of Your Commitments

Think of every committed task as a miniature project to be managed.  Every time someone commits to something, ensure that they write it down.  Have them determine all it will take to accomplish the task by the deadline.  What resources are needed?  Will expenses be required?  Who else needs to be communicated about this task?  Are we relying on others to do something?  Have we checked with them to ensure they can meet the prerequisites I need to meet my own deadlines?  Are there risks to me not meeting my commitment?  If you are going to keep your commitments, you need to know how much of your time it will take and what is involved to meet the commitment.

6. Toeing the Line

When someone does not meet a deadline, go to them to remind them of their commitment to the deadline and ask them what they will reprioritize to complete the task by no later than 24 hours beyond the deadline.  A leader that does not toe the line requiring commitments be made is a leader whose staff will miss deadlines frequently.  While people do not want to break commitments, stresses and realities of an overly-busy work environment guarantee that more will be asked of people than can actually be done.  It is the leader’s role to set the standard for how crucial keeping your word is.  Do not let a deadline be missed.  If someone misses a deadline and it really wasn’t that important, do not just let the deadline be missed; rather, emphasize the importance of having renegotiated that deadline because of its lesser importance.  Your tolerance of missed deadlines will be heard as a lack of criticality on more crucial deadlines.  Toe the line – ensure that your employees’ Yes is their Yes and their No is their No.

7. Peer to Peer Accountability

The leader should not be the only one holding each other to their commitments.  If the leader has created a culture of accountability, then one department leader will be empowered to go to another department leader (without accusation, with humility) to remind him/her of deadlines and commitments.  In a culture of accountability, no one will break commitments without letting the person know of resource or schedule issues and renegotiating.  When I go to a peer (or a superior!) who has missed a deadline, I say “James, from my understanding, you had told me that I would have the report by today.  Could you help me understand why I do not have it?  Also, in the future, if you are going to miss a deadline, let me know in advance.”  There is no blame in the conversation above, yet there is a requirement that we do what we say.  If all peers continually “trampoline spot” each other into keeping their word, the high standards of quality in the organization will exponentially increase.

8. Set Consequences

We mistakenly think that consequences in business equate to firing; yet there are a myriad of ways to set effective consequences when people continually break their commitments.  The most important consequence comes when people innately know that you do not accept a breaking of commitments.  If the expectation is ingrained in the company to honor commitments, then people will do that.  Another crucial consequence is peer accountability – having the entire team (not just the boss) empowered to approach people about missed deadlines.  Anyone should be able to go to anyone else, with humility, and say “You said you would have this to me by today, and it is not here; what will you reprioritize to ensure I have it by end of business?”  Creating a culture of peer-to-peer accountability relieves the burden on you to set many consequences.

If people are outliers from the culture and occasionally miss deadlines, set substantive consequences for them.  Tell them how their broken promise has impacted your trust of them.  Tell them you will ask for the deliverable hourly until you have it.  Reduce bonus pay; withhold some of their authority; remove them from a committee.  Firing is seldom a good answer, though you should be willing to do that for the sake of integrity and accountability in your organization.  The important thing is that everyone in your organization knows that you are intensely serious about people honoring their commitments.

9. Set the Example

No matter how accountable you hold others to their commitments, the loudest voice in your accountability is how consistent you are in meeting your commitments to them.  Hold yourself to the same high standard of keeping your word.  Just as they have a cognitive dissonant belief about their own integrity, you may also think of yourself as more a man/woman of your word than you really are.  Do you find yourself as the primary person who hasn’t completed their weekly tasks?  Do you take on more responsibility as the boss than you can accomplish?  Do you let yourself off the hook for minor missed deadlines?  Then you are sending a strong message to your staff that you don’t really mean Tuesday when you say Tuesday.

Set the example yourself.  Have action steps for your meetings, and make sure you have accomplished your committed tasks each week.  Say “No” to any tasks you are not sure you can accomplish.  Renegotiate any deadlines you are slipping on, as soon as you realize you may be slipping.  Treat your commitments as a project to manage.  Be hard on yourself if you miss a deadline, ensuring that you complete the task by end of business.  The example you set will speak volumes to your employees and will raise their standard.

Accountability is simply ensuring that people keep their word.  So keep yours, and spot them into keeping yours.  Your work life will become immensely smoother and more productive when people treat their word as their bond.





To learn more about creating organizational health, download TAC4 Solutions’ eBook Chief Exhausted Officer: 6 team behaviors that suck the life from a CEO, and 6 changes to restore a CEO’s energy.

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