10 Tips on Holding Staff Accountable

Most managers (and leaders) are really keen to perfect operating in the sweet spot between holding someone accountable for outcomes, and micromanaging. Many of you will have had experiences in asking someone to do something and later finding out that they didn’t. Some of you back off because you don’t want to come across as nit-picking, some of you don’t want to get angry, some of you are baffled by the other person’s defensive deflections.

Others of you have an “I shouldn’t have to follow up” reaction, and wish that your staff would just do what they were paid to do and not need following up.

And which one of these approaches gets good results?! Hmmm… None. So let’s see what does work!

 1. Set Clear Expectations

Focus on the outcome you want, linking it as clearly as you can to a bigger picture. If it helps you to do so, write down your expectation and/or plan the conversation in advance. Try to ensure that you’re not “thinking aloud”, or sending a reactive email that you haven’t really thought through. 

2. Focus on the “Why”

It’s much easier for team members to understand your expectations if they can see the bigger picture. Showing them the outcome you’re aiming to achieve helps team members make decisions that are better aligned with your desires. 

3. Be clear about real parameters

Sometimes there are real restraints on a team member’s ability to take initiative. For example, there might be budgetary constraints, deadlines or any number of other expectations you have. To hold a team member accountable for results, think through and articulate these parameters right from the outset. (But also let go of parameters that are your preferences but not actually essential.) 

4. Teach people to read your mind

The clearer and more consistently you articulate your expectations and the “why” behind your thinking, the more team members can anticipate what you’re going to ask and the way you want things done. You can even say to them, when they come to you with questions, “What do you think I’m going to tell you right now?” (Note that this is done with a tone of support, not derision or impatience!) 

5.Don’t get bored with repeating yourself until after they’re bored with listening to you!

Whether they’re doing it deliberately or not, some team members only respond to repeated requests (also known as “nagging!). If a team member needs to hear something from you 18 times before they’ll do it, don’t give up at the 7th repetition! This only trains the team member that you back off quickly! Train them to think of you as a dog with a bone; you don’t give up on your requests!

6. Ensure that deliverables are linked to timeframes

To ensure that everyone understands the expectations, get the team member to nominate the timeframe by which the outcome will be achieved. Then, document it (e.g. in the Admin Column in your software.) If the team member gives a timeframe that is either too short or too long, negotiate with them to make it realistic. 

7. Help them prioritise

If the team member feels under time pressure (“I don’t have time”), then help them prioritise the other tasks and duties they have. You might find that you’re inadvertently overloading that team member. Ensure that their prioritisation is realistic and in alignment with your expectations. 

8. Have a feedback loop

Give them the chance to ask questions, express reservations, identify potential barriers, and request resources for help. Let them know that you expect them to check in with you as soon as there’s a barrier; they shouldn’t wait until the deadline to have that problem resolved. 

9. Give yourself permission to follow up

Let the team member know that you’ll check in with them from time to time to see how they’re going. And then: do so! 

10. Follow Up

When you get the chance, check in with the team member (“Hey, how’s it going with that project?). Listen to any concerns and help get them back on track. Then, when the deadline is here, get them to report on the outcome! Even better, you can train them to self-report. Say to them: “If you want me off your back, don’t wait for me to come to you with this; come to me first!”