Accountability and Recognition Practices

Getting employees to take full responsibility for their efforts, outcomes, and commitments


Source: Chief Learning Officer Magazine, Feb2015, curated by Barry Zweibel, LeadershipTraction

Source: Chief Learning Officer Magazine, Feb2015, curated by Barry Zweibel, LeadershipTraction

  • Do you assign tasks to your direct reports that never get done?
  • Do you find that if you don’t follow-up on open items you never hear about them again?
  • Do you have to repeatedly remind people to do what they said they would?
  • Do you believe that the quality of the work coming back to you is sub-standard?
  • Do you not delegate as much as you might because it’s just easier to do it yourself?

A Primer on How to Hold Your Staff MORE Accountable

Worry not – or at least don’t worry a lot about it. The bad news is that you’re likely not holding your staff sufficiently accountable for the ‘extra’ work you give them. The good news, though, is that it’s not all that difficult to change that. You simply need to get a little clearer with them about your assignments and their implications:

  • The Who – “Here’s why I’m choosing you do work on this assignment…” – Maybe it’s because it’s in the person’s area of responsibility, maybe it’s because you see this as an important developmental stretch for the person, maybe it’s because of some particular competency the individual possesses. Regardless, be clear to whoever is the “Who” that s/he is the “Who.”
  • The What – “Here’s what I specifically want you to accomplish…” – Try being more specific about what you want than you usually are. So if you want pie charts instead of bar graphs for some reason, say so on the front end, before the work is completed. If you want a year-over-year analysis when it’s more typical to just give YTD figures, specifically say so. If you want a detailed plan, explain what you mean by “detailed.” Since you’re the one giving the assignment, you get to be the one who asks for what you really want, not just for something in the neighborhood. And that includes what types of interim updates you want from the person, along the way, as well.
  • The Why – “Here’s the reason why I want you to do this…” –Don’t underestimate the value of explaining your Why to people. It really helps. Two caveats, though: (1) if you’re in a real crisis situation (not just feeling under pressure) you may not have time to explain the Why, so quickly state that fact and offer to provide the additional background information about your request once the crisis subsides, if the person is still interested; (2) if it’s clear that your delegatee truly understands the Why already, it may not be necessary to provide line-and-verse about it. It’s best to be sure, though, which you can do by simply asking them to explain to you the Why. Don’t forget to explain the Why behind your those interim updates you want, either.
  • The When -“I’d like to get the finished product back from you by…” – Back in my days in the telecommunications world I worked with a purchasing agent (I’ll call her Phyllis) who taught me a very important lesson about the When. I needed some telecom gear in a hurry, so I filled out the necessary paperwork and in the box that asked “When Needed” I put the letters ASAP, meaning As Soon As Possible. When the gear didn’t come, I went to visit Phyllis personally to find out what was (not) going on. “Didn’t you see my ASAP?” I asked her. “Yes, I did,” she replied, “But Barry, you have to understand, I’m a very busy person. And there are only so many hours in a day. It was just not possible for me to get to your request yet.” And she was dead-serious. “So what am I supposed to do if I really need something right away, Phyllis?” I asked while teetering on the edge of insanity. “Oh, that’s easy, just put today’s date in the When Needed box on the form,” she said with a smile that curiously made it seem like she was really trying to be helpful. “Really?!” “Yes, really!” So a few days later I tried Phyllis’ suggestion … and you know what? It worked perfectly! The moral of this story: Make sure you’re asking for the right When in the right way. And that includes the When you want those interim updates, too.

There’s the Where and the How, too, but I’ll leave them to you to figure out. (Or leave it for our coaching conversations!)

I’ll also leave to you an obvious implication of all of this: You’ll likely need to think through the Who, What, Why, When, Where, and How a bit more before you start to delegate. If you do, though, I guarantee it will be time well spent.

For More On Employee Accountability

  • Employee Discussions: A Special Report on Ten Important Things a Boss MUST Know How to Say, by Barry Zweibel – Don’t let not knowing what to say – or how to say it – undermine your credibility as the boss.
  • Leadership Moves – A bog series of 32 tips, tricks, and helpful hints to help you have the kind of impact, as a leader, that you’ve always wanted, delivered to your email inbox, every two-to-three days.
  • Leadership Haiku: Increasing Your Impact and Influence, 17 Syllables at a Time, by Barry Zweibel. Want to become a better leader? Want to help others accelerate their own leadership development? Then link on over to Amazon.com and get yourself a copy.
  • Connect with Barry Zweibel to discuss your particular concerns.


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