This month I’m taking on your biggest leadership challenges. Last week we discussed creating a retention strategy to keep your top performing employees. This week I’m touching on accountability, an issue that comes up frequently during my work with CEOs. Understanding to whom (or to what!) your employees feel accountable to will help you in guiding your team – and making sure the work gets done.

Accountable…to whom (or maybe to what)?

When we talk about accountability we always start with this baseline: accountability is always in relation to something. As a manager you want to pay attention to whom individual team members are most likely to be accountable to, that is, what do they value most? Until you get to that fundamental level, you will never be able to achieve high levels of accountability with each individual member of your team.

For example, some employees are most likely to be accountable to their manager. They are motivated to do the right thing, they want to be seen as a good team player, and they want their manager to approve, like, and appreciate what they do.  

Other members of your staff may be less focused on being accountable to the leader, but they’re very focused on being accountable to their other team members. Their sense of accountability is more team or group based.

Still, others are motivated, at their core, by the mission of your organization. They believe in, and work hard for, the impact your company has on clients, customers, or the world.

It’s important to know to whom each of your employees feel most accountable, so when you’re having a conversation about a missed deadline or an incorrect deliverable, you can offer constructive feedback that gets to the core of their efforts. For example, you could say “I know it’s important to you to be a great team player. As you know, everyone was really relying on you to get this part of the project done, and I’m worried about how this will impact the team. I know you are, too. Where can we course-correct and make this right together?”

When you take a step back and assess how your employees view accountability, you can speak to them more effectively.

Mindset and Accountability

Another part of accountability is understanding what is preventing the employee from holding him or herself accountable. Employees run into mental roadblocks all the time that can destroy accountability, productivity, and engagement. Grudge collecting, victim mentality, and learned helplessness are just a few of the ways these mental roadblocks can manifest.

Understanding why an employee believes he or she can’t get something done is crucial to helping him or her get unstuck. We caution managers from punishing or labeling what they view as deficiencies in an employee’s behavior.

Instead, focus on their frame of mind. These employees are stuck, and part of how to help them get unstuck is to make them more self aware of the box they’ve put themselves in. For example, you could say, “Laura, I’ve always seen you as an innovative, very creative person, and I’ve never seen you as someone who feels like a victim. You are so capable, but in this conversation we’ve had you seem to paint yourself as a victim. It just doesn’t fit for me, so let’s let’s talk about that.”

Your goal is to make them more self aware of the box they’re in — not just focus on the content or the deliverable.

Struggling with accountability in your team or organization? We list a number of these accountability roadblocks and how to overcome them in our Accountability workshop and in my book, Thrive By Design.

Key Takeaways

  • To whom – or to what – do your employees feel accountable to? Knowing this information will help you address issues tailored to your team’s values.
  • Determine how mindset plays a role in accountability — what boxes or roadblocks do your employees face? How can you help them see their mental blocks and reframe their mindset?
  • Our Manager Resource Center offers a multitude of tools, articles, and assessments to help managers with accountability issues.