The time for annual reviews is here and a phrase might be doing the rounds – ‘we need to hold people more accountable’. What does this phrase imply? From the sound of it, that someone didn’t do their job. And no one likes to hear that. But we do need people to be more accountable! So, how do we get there without rubbing people the wrong way?

Figure out the need. The call for accountability signals failure. At least that’s how people perceive it. So, ask yourself what exactly do you want when you ask for more accountability. Do you want to inspire change and get your team to take more risks? Have teams missed targets and do you want to see improved productivity? Or are decisions not being made at the right time, by the right people, in collaborative spaces? Get specific and then think through how to get people to move towards that.

Become aware of your role. In cases where your people haven’t delivered on their goals, it is easy to blame them. But pause and think about why people haven’t performed. If you are in the role of their supervisor, before approaching the other person, consider:

  • Have I been clear about my expectations?
  • Have I asked what I can do to help?
  • Have I taken the time to review processes and build a plan of action?

These questions will help you clarify your accountability towards your team. Research shows that “when you are accountable to someone or a group of people for doing what you said you would do, you can easily get stuff done because you engage the power of social expectations.” In fact, you have a 65% chance of completing a goal by committing to someone about it.

Prepare for the conversation. In cases where someone isn’t delivering, and you’ve also figured out where you could’ve done better, how you have the conversation becomes the deal-breaker. You can’t blame people. A set of research shows that people who blame others for their mistakes lose status, learn less, and perform worse relative to those who own up to their mistakes. Organizations with a culture of blame have a disadvantage when it comes to creativity, learning, and productive risk-taking.

How do you mitigate this? Ask what happened, and then listen. Don’t question. Just hear them out, even if you feel that your team member is making excuses. Then, frame the problem at hand as a business challenge, not a personal one. For example, say, “A goal we had was to release the third version of our product, and as a team, we missed the launch by 4 months. It means our competitors are moving ahead. I’m wondering how I can enlist your best support this year and work through the barriers we faced.”

While asking for accountability is essential, we need people to understand why it is being called for and what is expected of them. It’s easier to get them on board after that.

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