Leaders have been struggling to both define and improve how employees are held accountable for years. Data shows that 82% of managers say they have limited to no ability to hold others accountable successfully! The traditional approach to accountability is often limited to annual performance reviews that are often ineffective and overly general. In fact, Gallup found that only 14% of employees feel their performance is managed effectively, and 26% get feedback less than once a year.
The real problem with accountability is that it has largely become a process of accounting, using generalized categories and rating systems with numbers or labels. This feedback model can have a built-in negativity bias, resulting in stacked ratings that unfairly compare employees. Neuroscience research has found that labeling and ranking automatically generates a fight or flight response in people. The simple act of adding a numerical score to a performance review can cause the employee to disengage immediately. What could have been a thoughtful and productive conversation becomes a negative experience that leaves the employee feeling defensive. Leaders must take a new approach to accountability to deepen connections with direct reports and increase the quality of feedback and learning.
Change the Conversation from “They” to “We”
Leaders must connect with their employees regularly and emphasize how their contributions make a difference to the entire team. Speaking in terms of how the whole team can succeed together rather than assigning blame and criticism will shift employees’ perceptions and overcome fingerpointing and defensiveness.
Author of The Radical Leap, and Crestcom faculty member, Steve Farber explains it this way, “It’s universal: as sure as the sun will rise in the east, folks will end up blaming their woes on “them.” Managers blame their woes on “them,” the employees, and employees gripe about “them,” the management. Presidents and CEOs whine about “them,” the board, or “them,” the analysts, and we all moan about “them,” the shareholders. The conversation goes round and round like a Tilt-A-Whirl, and pretty soon, you’re not sure who’s talking about whom. And where does it all end up? What’s the Big Conclusion? “They” will never change. And it’s all an illusion, for one simple reason: There is no they, there is the only US.”
Focus on Overcoming Challenges Rather Than Assigning Blame
When people think about “holding someone accountable,” it comes with an automatic negative connotation. We immediately think of punishments and consequences or being lectured about our many shortcomings. The goal of creating a true culture of accountability is to encourage employees to meet and exceed expectations, not to spend time and energy doling out punishments. Conversations that focus on learning from mistakes and finding opportunities to grow will be far more productive when discussing performance issues.
Great leaders should also approach shortcomings with grace and humility. If an employee failed to meet a deadline, what was the leader’s role in that failure? Was the deadline realistic, were the instructions clear, were there other obstacles to success that could have been removed?
Help Your Managers Become Leaders
Remember that it is always better to be proactive than reactive to enhance employee performance. Develop your managers’ leadership skills to give them the tools they need to improve their ability to hold themselves and their staff accountable and exceed performance expectations. Taking a new approach to accountability can create a workplace where employees are engaged, and visions for the future become a reality.