Getting Others to Take Accountability

A common complaint from managers is that their people do not take accountability. Our feedback article talked about the need for awareness, agreement and action, but perhaps the message missing is the underlying foundation to it all: accountability.

In a recent coaching conversation, a senior manager we’ll call Jo described her frustration with a member of her team who was poor on time management. Jo shared a long list of things she had tried to help this individual, let’s call him Kris, to improve. Jo had done the work considering what could be the causes, issues and potential solutions.

Kris had the easiest job in all of this. All he had to do was describe how hard everything was, then simply say “I don’t know” whenever asked what he thought the causes or potential solutions could be. In a way, Kris has been allowed to take no accountability because he has never been pushed to explore his challenges or come up with solutions.

Driving accountability in others means asking them to come up with problem finding, analysis and solutions, then not letting them off the hook when they don’t have an immediate answer. When we ask, “what might be the cause of that problem?” and someone replies, “I don’t know,” we need to have other options than simply doing the thinking and talking for them.

What if you asked that person to take it on as a project, analysing the problem and coming up with ideas? What if you asked them to report back to you next week? What if you remembered that following week to ask for their progress report? What if you didn’t let it go?

Whilst you might argue that this isn’t really the person taking accountability at all, because you’re having to push and pull an awful lot, over time you create the expectation that your team manage their own problem solving. And that’s accountability.

This is not a quick fix, but what is when it comes to helping people understand their roles and take accountability for their work? Better to start small and build a culture or expectation over time that you expect people to think for themselves, than to keep going down the route of doing all the work for them.