One of the most important duties of any manager is to empower their teams to set and achieve goals . At its core, management is all about helping staff to be accountable. Yet, less than one in five people  are able to successfully hold others responsible for delivering on workplace expectations.
While that is an alarming statistic, it’s not all that surprising when you consider the undertones of the term accountability. I invite you to think back to the last time you talked to your employees about responsibility and workplace performance. What was the reaction?
Often, leaders are met with fear that a punishment is about to be dealt out. You may also see defensiveness or comments about how some other group or person needs to be held accountable. And, at other times, you have staff who recognize an issue, see their role in it and approach the conversation with a problem-solving mindset.
I imagine most managers hope that their employees fall into that latter group – the ones who are ready to take ownership. While some individuals may naturally embrace that style, a vital part of your role as a leader is to coach your people so that they feel safe enough and empowered enough to take responsibility when the time comes.
So, how can you be part of the less than 20% of people who enhance accountability in their organization?
When you are seeking to amplify an employee’s performance, I encourage you to apply a two-part process:
- Reflect on your own accountability.
- Engage in a psychologically safe discussion.
Part 1: Reflect on Your Own Accountability
To hold someone accountable, managers need to create the conditions for their team members’ success. Otherwise, it’s not reasonable or fair to expect a person to fully embrace their agency. That starts by examining whether you have established an environment where your employees can accomplish their tasks.
Each person will look for different areas of support to successfully achieve a goal, so I encourage you to use the lens of the Emergenetics® Attributes as you review your approach. By considering the interests of each preference, you can ensure that you have holistically addressed the needs of your people.
Before engaging in a conversation about accountability, consider the following questions:
- From the Analytical Attribute, did you clearly articulate the objectives and desired outcomes?
- From the Structural Attribute, did you explain your expectations of your staff member(s), set timelines and identify an action plan?
- From the Social Attribute, did you offer your assistance and ask the individual(s) what support they wanted in completing the project?
- From the Conceptual Attribute, did you take time to brainstorm how your employee(s) could navigate the situation?
- From the Expressiveness Attribute, did you provide space for your staff to share their interests, concerns or needs along the way?
- From the Assertiveness Attribute, did you set a realistic timeline for the project given existing resources?
- From the Flexibility Attribute, did you clearly define what was required and allow for appropriate freedom in their approach?
Answering these prompts can help you to identify any changes you can make to better support your team while also modeling accountability by recognizing your own impact on the initiative. With an understanding of what, if anything, you could have done differently to improve results, you can move onto the next step.
Part 2: Engage in a Psychologically Safe Discussion
In addition to understanding your role, I encourage you to focus any accountability conversation on the matter at hand to set the tone for a more positive discussion that helps employees take responsibility.
To frame your discussion, consider nine steps:
1. Set a meeting to discuss the situation and make sure attendee(s) are aware of the topic of the conversation in advance, so they can prepare.
2. In the meeting, acknowledge the instances when your employee(s) demonstrated accountability. If there are gaps in accountability, state your concerns and lean into the Analytical Attribute to lay out the facts as you understand them.
3. Give space to allow the individual(s) to share their perspectives about the situation, voice concerns and explain any challenges they faced.
4. Come to consensus on a mutual understanding of the issue and obstacles.
5. Considering your reflections in part one, acknowledge anything that you could have done differently to improve the outcome.
6. Lean into the Social Attribute to ask what help your staff needs as well as the Structural Attribute to understand what resources would allow them to be more effective.
7. Move into the Conceptual Attribute to consider the future and identify opportunities to move forward to achieve the required outcomes.
8. Determine next steps. If you know the preferred Thinking Attribute(s) of your employee(s), you can use that knowledge to suggest an approach that is most likely to motivate them. If not, share the following options and ask which would be most useful.
Abstract Thinking (Analytical and Conceptual preferences)
Team members with this combination of preferences may prefer to brainstorm options and analyze the best way forward.
Concrete Thinking (Structural and Social preferences)
Individuals who enjoy Concrete thinking may be most interested in working with you to identify an action plan to achieve the goal.
Convergent Thinking (Analytical and Structural preferences)
Convergent thinkers may wish to do some research, evaluate their options and create an outline for their next steps.
Divergent Thinking (Social and Conceptual preferences)
Those who prefer Divergent thinking are likely to want to brainstorm ideas together to determine their approach.
9. Identify future check-in meetings to ensure progress toward goals. If your employee(s) prefer to work on next steps independently, set your first check-in within a few days of your initial meeting to agree on the path forward. If you have worked together on next steps, you may wish to allow more time to pass before reconnecting.
When you acknowledge your role in your team’s success and partner with them to get back on track by focusing on solutions and not blame, you can help accountability lose its negative connotation and instead be seen for what it truly is: an opportunity to achieve even greater results.
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