Consultant to Creatives

The Clarity Journal

Tactics, Tools, and Truth for Creative Entrepreneurs

5 Ways to Improve Accountability On Your Team

When you dream, I mean really dream, about what your business will look like in five, seven, or 10 years, what do you see? I’ll bet you think about yourself as a hard-working yet fun-loving, not-too-stuffy CEO with a team that regularly explodes in group high-fives because together you are crushing it. 

This idyllic vision probably doesn’t include your team’s snide remarks about how much work they have to do. Or them testing the limits of how late they can stroll into the office. Or letting deadlines slide by one day, or two. Or losing their cool in front of a client or customer. Or producing sloppy work. Or wearing even sloppier clothes.

As the boss, you are responsible for holding people accountable for their performance and behavior. No one is going to do this for you. Furthermore, if you don’t hold people accountable, it can have disastrous effects not only on your business results but also on the team’s morale.

You might think to yourself, “my people would never do those things because I’m going to hire the right people.” Hiring intrinsically motivated, highly-skilled, hard-working, easy to work with people is only part of what it takes to create a high-accountability environment. Even the best employees (and bosses) in the world are going to make mistakes, have surly attitudes, or be less than 100% motivated every now and then.

There’s good news here: holding people accountable is more than just reacting when they mess up. In fact, in most cases, the more time you spend proactively creating a high-accountability environment, the less time you will have to spend reactively holding people accountable.

Here are five ways you can proactively improve accountability on your team.

1. Show Up in Person

As the leader of your team, there is no substitute for your physical presence. The accountability created by you being in the same room as your team is almost impossible to replicate. You can’t assume that they will hum along with enthusiasm and efficiency without your presence and active engagement.

You might have a virtual team, or you might have a team of part-timers who don’t work in the same building every day. If that is the case, you need to take care to be present and connected with your team however you can. This can be with phone or video calls, group messaging platforms, or regular in-person meetings. 

2. Be Clear About Task Ownership

Have you ever been in a silent battle with your spouse or roommate about who is going to break down and finally take out the trash or clean the toilet or do some other unwanted and undesirable chore ? If so, you understand that when something is “everybody’s” job then nobody actually takes care of it. 

You can’t hold people accountable for projects or tasks if you aren’t clear about responsibility and ownership of those tasks. When you are making important decisions about work that’s to be done, you need be explicit about who is responsible for the execution.

3. Give Feedback Often

Real accountability requires you to be clear about your expectations of people’s performance and behavior. When you give feedback regularly, both positive and negative, you not only reinforce what the standards are but you also communicate that the standards actually matter.

Now, by “give feedback often,” I don’t mean that you need to micromanage or nit-pick your team’s every move. Be careful that you don’t give so much feedback that your team feels discouraged, overwhelmed, or even confused about what you want from them. After giving negative feedback, give them time and space to adjust and make the necessary changes.

4. Encourage Healthy Conflict

Even though it’s ultimately your job as boss to hold people accountable, a culture of accountability can’t be created by one person. The team needs to work together to make sure everyone is performing (and behaving) in a way that will enable the team to be effective.

When someone isn’t performing, or when their behavior is hurting others, it has real effects, especially if you have a small team. Encourage your people to share their concerns openly and honestly with that person. Teach them how to communicate directly and respectfully. Sometimes feedback from your peers is more effective at creating change than feedback from your boss.

5. Get Buy-In

There are a lot of different reasons why people’s performance may suffer at work. Sometimes they are stressed in their personal life, or maybe they lack experience or skills in a particular task.

However, there may also be something else that you are overlooking that is affecting your team’s performance: they might not be bought in to the direction you are taking them. If they don’t agree with your decisions, or feel they haven’t been invited to weigh in, you had better believe it will make a difference in their job performance.

You can't hold someone accountable to something they haven't agreed to do. Therefore, your team needs to be verbally and explicitly committed to the direction and decisions you are making as leader. 

How do you create an environment of accountability?


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