Every organization has nonperforming individuals. Just as every organization has rising stars. When management tolerates nonperformers and fails to hold employees accountable for their work, employee engagement tanks. Low performers bring the bar down, and this frustrates high performers. The simple fact is when people become accountable for their work, they own the outcomes.
Oftentimes executives struggle with this. There’s a fine line between holding staff accountable and becoming a watchdog. According to Harvard Business Review, there are five pinnacles to keeping your team on track, holding them accountable, and getting everyone on board to succeed: clear expectations, clear capability, clear measurement, clear feedback, and clear consequences.
What does this look like?
1. Clear expectations. If you ask your staff to imagine a tree, consider the possible responses: pine trees, palm tree, maple trees in fall, cherry trees in spring. The same might happen with each individual’s definition of “success.” What does success look like? When everybody on the team understands what success will look like, can articulate it, and can articulate his or her role in creating this shared vision, then you have successfully communicated your expectations. Set deadlines and expectations together. When your team has a say in the final product and timeline, instead of it simply being imposed upon them, they are more likely to respond. Clear expectations depend on a solid communication strategy.
2. Clear capability. “Do you have everything you need to get the job done?” Ask your team this frequently. If they respond that they do, then they accept accountability. Also, as a manager, have you chosen the right people for the right jobs? Are you choosing by skill, not title? It’s critical to know your team and know their strengths and weaknesses. How else will you be able to delegate the work accordingly, and fairly?
3. Clear measurement. “What gets measured gets done.” Selecting appropriate metrics will determine where time, and money, will be allocated. This is a pivotal starting point for process improvement. Metrics can be operational (turnaround time, production time, performance of people etc.) or financial (profitability ratios, sales figures etc.) When the team doesn’t have clear metrics to guide them and help them adjust according to needs, it’s like sending them on a hiking trip without a map. Every employee should know the mission, vision, and strategic objectives of the organization.
4. Clear feedback. So many employees feel a “feedback famine,” unsure as to whether they’re performing well. Feedback is one of the most powerful ways to engage employees and improve processes. It’s a manager’s golden ticket. But it doesn’t go one way. Feedback must be multi-directional. It takes many forms: formal and informal, verbal and written. Having a constant conversation – a constant cycle of feedback – is also driven by metrics.
5. Clear consequences. What happens when the job doesn’t get done? Consequences drive accountability. Doing what you say you’re going to do is the only way to maintain credibility with your staff. Once the staff signs up for the job, are receiving the necessary feedback to keep them on track, they should deliver. If they don’t, you must apply the appropriate consequences. This should be transparent and reasonable. If an employee, for instance, runs into a problem that deals with skills, you might have to renegotiate a deadline or provide training. Or, perhaps, she might need to be re-assigned to another task.
When employees are held accountable for their work, they take pride in their work. They own the results and are more willing to take risks to grow. Accountability is one of the key areas managers need to improve to increase employee engagement.