How You Are Killing Accountability On Your Team (And What To Do To Fix It)

Have you found yourself wondering why more people on your team aren’t taking personal responsibility for achieving objectives? Do you wish your people would hold themselves accountable for the quality of their work and the productivity of their time?

Some leaders assume this lack of personal investment and drive is due to the personal characteristics of the individuals on their team. Perhaps you feel as though you made a mistake in the hiring process and now you have to live with it until that person moves on or you can find a reason to fire them.

I hate to break it to you, but at least some of the fault maybe your own.

How You Are Killing Accountability

We’ve all heard the phrase: If you need something done, give it to a busy person. How often do you deploy that method in your quest to drive results? Take a step back and take an honest look at your team. What does the distribution of work and responsibility look like? Are you taking the time and effort needed to push and grow all of your employees? Or are you disproportionately leaning on a few high-achievers?

Many leaders don’t realize the harmful effects that the latter management type has on their team. Often, our egos get in the way of allowing us to see reality—we think we’re giving high-achievers the “gift” of greater responsibility to allow them to “grow”. In reality, we’re causing burn-out and nurturing bitterness among the team.

Think of it in terms of reward and punishment. Our management mantra is: What gets rewarded gets repeated. How are you rewarding a high sense of personal accountability and responsibility on your team? Are you “rewarding” it with more work? Are you shifting work from those members of your team that is not performing to your standards to your high-achievers without holding poor performers accountable?

People recognize a manager’s inability to effectively confront and address poor performance. The team takes note of it when one person neglects their responsibilities and is not held accountable for it. If the trend continues and you consistently fail to address the issue properly, low accountability becomes the norm and mediocrity becomes your culture.

When met with this unhappy reality, managers have two choices: to address the issue head-on and make difficult decisions to correct it. Or, they can simply continue to ignore the issue, instead opting to put more pressure on their high-achievers to drive the company forward. Committed, thoughtful managers and leaders will do the former. Sadly, many will choose the latter. And in so doing, you are, in effect, rewarding poor performance and punishing excellence.

When you reward mediocrity, mediocrity is exactly what you will get from your team. This will happen—surprisingly quickly—in two ways. The first is that others on your team will notice that it is OK to miss deadlines, produce low-quality work, and place blame on others. They will shift into this mindset as well, noticing that they can get by much easier themselves by performing at this level knowing they will not be held accountable for their performance. The second is the effect it has on your high-achievers. First, they will also disengage from the drive of your mission. Then, they will leave. High-achievers do not remain in a culture of mediocrity for long, and you will be left only with those employees who are comfortable with coasting through work without drive, ambition, or innovation.

Now, you have to figure out a way to find, hire, and develop new high-achievers from outside your organization within an organizational culture that is being weighed down by low accountability and mediocrity. Any high-achievers you may have left on your team are likely, at best, a bit disengaged and, at worst, bitter about the lack of leadership in your organization. If this is the culture that you have cultivated, it’s also likely that these are the people that you, yet again, are depending on to onboard new talent. Do you see how killing accountability will develop a downward trend?

How To Fix It

Fixing an organizational culture that has killed the team and personal accountability is a tough job. It is not a fix that happens overnight—it requires planning, commitment, and tough decisions.

Creating a culture of accountability starts with you. While it may be true that you have people on your team that are great at holding themselves personally accountable, your team as a whole needs to experience accountability from the top first. If you have killed the accountability culture on your team, your first step in fixing it is to reflect and change your mindset.

Think about what you have read here today and be honest with yourself. Are you punishing hard work and excellence and rewarding mediocrity on your team? Are there people on your team who have always been poor performers, have never volunteered for extra projects or responsibilities, and often play the blame game when they fail to deliver? Your high-achievers take the brunt of the effort when this behavior is allowed to persist. How do you think they feel about it?

Your next step is to create a performance plan process for your team. At Crestcom, the leadership team works together to develop our annual goals, which are structured to ensure we are hitting our long-term goals. Those annual goals are communicated to everyone in a team meeting, along with an overview of our company’s financial performance and projections.

Then, functional groups work together to develop department goals and individual goals. It’s great to do this as a group, allowing departments to split off into smaller groups because each department has dependencies on the other. In this format, everyone is thinking about annual goals at the same time and in the same place, allowing everyone to the ability to easily collaborate with others on goals.

Individual performance goals are written down in an Employee Performance Plan. When the performance plans are complete, the department head reviews their goals and ensures they are in-line with the company goals. Then, both the manager and the employee sign off on the plan.

This process provides 100% clarity on performance expectations and goals for the year. We also do monthly and quarterly check-ins to track and discuss progress toward goals. It should never be a mystery or a surprise for your team members where they stand in their performance evaluation.

Finally, there will be times when you need to have those tough conversations. Most of us dread these, but accountability issues must be addressed for the good of the entire organization. If issues persist, you may need to make some tough decisions to let those chronically poor performers go. You can not afford to lose the passion and the energy of your team by avoiding making this decision. Allowing poor accountability and mediocre performance to pass on your team slowly erodes progress toward building a high-performing team.

Remember, you can not achieve business success on the backs of the few high-achievers on your team. You must coach and develop everyone in the organization to perform at their best and take personal responsibility for executing tasks, achieving goals, and moving the company forward.