Instill Accountability within Your Team

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Instill Team Accountability

Estimated reading time: 11 minutes

Instilling Accountability How-To Video

Dr. Mary Kay – About Leaders Co-Founder and Ultimate Leader Success System Creator

Instilling Accountability

Accountability! How often are you frustrated because people in your workplace are not practicing it? The chatter in the breakroom is that people are in disbelief the manager is not holding people accountable. And why aren’t they? Isn’t accountability the same thing as being responsible? Doing the job, so team members do not have to pick up the slack?

Think about it; even managers cannot agree on what “accountability” means. Some believe it is discipline; others say, “I’m holding you accountable,” but do little to follow up and show they comprehend the accountability meaning.

Reactive managers are uncomfortable with accountability. They have a hard time holding others accountable when accountability in the workplace is not understood. The result? Employees do not become accountability partners with a weak manager.

Employee Accountability

Accountability to You

Ultimate Leaders understand accountability’s importance to a thriving, productive workplace. These leaders impress upon their employees how to be decisive and responsible for their actions— meaning accountability problems cease to exist because people “own it.” They also work on building trust within the team.

However, in a reactive culture, managers not trained to be leaders are quick to discipline or even terminate employees. Rather than trying to find out what is causing a team member’s lack of engagement, we hear complaints about such situations frequently in our team meetings:

“We had this talented employee,” a manager will tell us, “But we kept having to write them up for being late. Finally, we had to follow policy and let them go, and now they are working for the competition.”

Ultimate Leaders know that there is another option. Instead of reverting right away to the task, policy-oriented viewpoint, they allow these underperforming employees to make choices and resolve their issues. This helps employees build up their accountability and confidence and make themselves more productive members of the team so that drastic measures such as job termination most often are not necessary.

Think about this accountability quote:

“Ninety-nine percent of our best employees could be viewed as “difficult” by another manager in another company. The best bring talent to the workplace, but they also bring ego and won’t put up with ineffective managers. Instead, the best goes elsewhere to work for someone who “gets” and appreciates them—like an Ultimate Leader in a competing company.”

The Ultimate Leader’s Accountability Definition

Accountability is when a leader creates a culture in the organization that teaches the value of everyone keeping commitments.

There will always be employees the leader cannot reach—team members with goals that do not match those of the organization and who are unwilling or unable to change.

It’s important to point out that these employees have unproductive habits such as chronic lateness or inconsistent follow-through or who have the potential to be top performers but have not made the right choices to get to that level. We call these employees saboteurs.

They are like cancer in an organization, bent on draining the productive energy from the workplace. Unfortunately, these people are often at the heart of significant problems in the workplace.

No Accountability Saboteur

Saboteur Statistic

In a group of three hundred people, you will have five difficult people, and as their Ultimate Leader, you will be able to be a successful Accountability Coach with three of them. The other two of the five are the saboteurs. These people choose termination rather than changing their ideas or behaviors to align with the organization’s values.

Saboteurs that are allowed to stay in an organization by an untrained manager will do whatever they can to negatively affect the efficiency of the workplace. They may break equipment, falsify reports, or pit team members against each other with the intent to slow down production. They intimidate other employees and undermine managers. They can even be managers.

For example, one of our client companies had a manager whose behavior did not fit the company’s core values. A team member once went to the manager and expressed concern about her behavior. The employee’s difficult conversation was met with hostility and threats.

“If you go over my head,” the manager told the employee, “You can expect not to be here tomorrow.” The manager was a saboteur going against everything the company stood for and intimidated into silencing any employee who tried to stop the manager.

Bringing Chaos into the Culture

Actions such as these are a form of unregulated negative response on the part of the saboteurs, who focus on retaliation by bringing chaos into the culture through dramatic events, reaction-getting tactics, and blaming others for their poor choices. They see their expressions of anger as a form of justice and use them to control the environment in which they work.

When confronted with a saboteur’s unruly behavior, others on the team tend to react to them instead of holding this person accountable; that is, a saboteur’s coworkers will respond to the negative comments with further negativity rather than telling them to stop because they fear retaliation. This gives the saboteur precisely what they want, and leaves team members intimidated and under the saboteur’s control.

Lack of Accountability or Responsibility.jpg

Dysfunctional Activity

When such dysfunctional activity becomes a daily occurrence, it’s difficult for managers to tell who the saboteur is because everyone on the team can seem like one—angry, yelling, and prone to using profanity in their frustration over what is going on. If the saboteur is uncovered in larger organizations, they might be transferred to another division, where someone else will have to deal with the disruptive behavior.

Because untrained managers are unfamiliar with Ultimate Leadership, they will not know that they should discuss the meaning of accountability with a saboteur and that it might help end this person’s bad behavior. In the absence of accountability, the saboteur can cause much damage.

So, what can you as a leader do to resolve such a toxic situation? Enroll in a leadership development course with an accountability component. Discover how to help team members control their emotions and interact with others appropriately and productively.

Saboteurs in the Workplace

Through your leadership skills, saboteurs in the workplace will stick out like a sore thumb. Whereas in a reactive environment, saboteurs can turn successful teams into unproductive communities by making team members go dormant with fear. In an Ultimate Leader culture, there is no room for toxic behaviors, and the saboteur will naturally be “outed,” and the problem will fix itself.

When we go into an organization with a lot of tension and low morale, we immediately implement accountability training in the workplace. When we do this, we notice immediate changes in all team members’ attitudes, especially those we suspect might have been saboteurs in the past.

Suddenly unable to push anyone else’s buttons, they become aware that there is a level of accountability they must meet; at this moment of truth, they will either leave the organization on their own or do something in violation of policy or procedure that there is no choice but to terminate them. Unable to cope with being accountable for their actions, saboteurs will self-destruct.

Steps to Responsibility and Accountability

Four Steps to Instilling Accountability 

As we have learned so far, managers not trained in leadership skills have trouble instilling accountability in their employees and don’t know what to do. Instead, when there is a policy or procedure violation, they go straight to verbal and written warnings; they may be too controlling or forceful to make the problem go away without considering the cause of why the employee is not taking responsibility.  

Ultimate Leaders, however, will first use the incremental steps of accountability to help instill ownership within their employees. Leaders know that verbal warnings don’t necessarily instill accountability but instead give team members the feeling that management is working against them. Even when dealing with significant issues, Ultimate Leaders live by the organization’s values and do not engage in judgmental or reactive behavior.

Step 1: The team member needs to recognize that they are being counterproductive.

When approaching an employee to discuss this step, a Leader can say something like,

“Up until now, we’ve been working on getting you to solve your situations, and we’ve both been very clear about what’s been happening and any expectations we may have. Now, you have to recognize how your actions are affecting others.”

“Up until now, we’ve been working on getting you to solve your situations, and we’ve both been very clear about what’s been happening and any expectations we may have. Now, you have to recognize how your actions are affecting others.”

How can you tell if an employee recognizes that they own the problem? First, they must be able to accept feedback from the team members who have been trying to work with them.

Next, they must acknowledge mistakes and openly listen to the perceptions of others.

Third, they must take that finger they have pointed at everybody else and point it back toward themselves. The communication must be truthful and authentic. The Accountability Coach must intend to help and provide clear expectations.

Step 2: The team member must accept responsibility. 

This means stop pretending that there’s nothing wrong and look at things they have done that have prevented them from getting good results.

Instead of complaining about the lack of clarity, what questions could they have been asking?

 Instead of keeping their ideas to themselves, to whom could they have opened up?

Instead of trying to do everything themself, what other team members could they have included when planning for a project?

If this employee can tell both sides of the story, this proves they accept responsibility and are choosing to move forward on the steps toward corrective action. If they cannot tell both sides and are still finger-pointing and blaming others – the following corrective action step depends on company policy.

Step 3: Now’s the time to focus on solutions. 

As the leader, you are not interested in making this team member defend their past actions or try to explain their behavior.

Instead, you want to move on and help this team member move on as well. For this part, the employee must stay focused on the expectations you have laid out and not take things personally or disengage from the conversation. The goal is to move forward in the right direction—and to do so together.

Step 4: Make an accountability breakthrough.

The team member needs to become a new and improved team member. Your goal is to leave them with the impression that you want them to be proactive and succeed—but you also want them to be accountable, drop the baggage, and get over past events.

At this point in the conversation, you must write down the commitments and actions you covered, review expectations, and discuss future choices and responsibilities. This documented conversation gives the team members the best chance at either changing their behavior or parting from the organization on good terms. Hopefully, it will be the former; these steps work because you’re not using them to create a wall but rather to open lines of communication and help the team member get back onto a productive track.

Too often, instead of using these steps, reactive managers hold sit-downs with their “problem” employees and turn the whole thing into management versus team member situations. Managers take things personally, become biased, and may even hold closed-door meetings with other managers about how they will get rid of this person. Team members who sense they are working in a hostile work environment may lash out to prove they can have the last word.

Ultimate Leaders manage such situations differently, with a people-centered approach geared more toward correction than termination. As a Leader, Accountability Coach, you have the tools to put progressive accountability in place without having to be the untrained manager, the enforcer. Instead, by helping team members make their own choices and accept responsibility for them, you are telling them they own their problems, not you, and they can solve them.

Accepting Responsibility 

After you have implemented accountability, if a problem employee’s performance hasn’t changed, you may have a saboteur on the team. Ultimate Leaders do not jump to progressive discipline but instead follow the four steps of accountability and provide a chance for the team member to be accountable, accept responsibility, and make a renewed commitment to being a part of the team.

Stress in the workplace does not always come from being overworked. Often, it’s caused by inefficient managers who spend most of their time managing instead of leading. If you aren’t training yourself about accountability and holding your people accountable, you’re missing a huge opportunity to outperform your competition.

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Dr. Mary Kay
Dr. Mary Kay
Dr. Mary Kay is a business leadership strategist, executive coach, trainer, author, and co-founder of the About Leaders community. She’s consulted with hundreds of companies and trained thousands of leaders. Her Ultimate Leader Success course helps managers become more confident, decisive leaders. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter.
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