Most corporate leaders understand the critical importance of holding employees accountable — it fosters deeper levels of employee engagement, promotes innovation and organizational growth, and most importantly, accelerates progress towards topline results.
Unfortunately, accountability in most organizations is viewed as a punitive consequence for poor performance rather than as a positive facilitator of growth. According to our Workplace Accountability Study, 80% of employees claim that they either never receive direct feedback on their work or only receive it when something goes wrong. At the same time, 82% of leaders admit that they either avoid holding employees accountable, or try but fail to do so.
These numbers indicate an alarming trend: why do so many leaders struggle to hold their employees accountable?
Holding employees accountable means ensuring that they are both collectively and individually demonstrating the ownership necessary for achieving desired results. However, leaders cannot hold employees accountable unless they establish clear and measurable Key Expectations — the top value-adding expectations that must be met in order to propel the organization toward its Key Results.
It is the responsibility of organizational leaders to establish these Key Expectations by mentally forming them, actively communicating them with every employee, purposefully aligning teams around them, and implementing a process to continually inspect whether or not they are being met.
Inspect What You Expect
Once leaders have clearly defined their expectations, communicated why these expectations matter, and solidified deadlines by which they must be met, leaders must take the final step of inspecting, or measuring, how effectively employees are fulfilling Key Expectations. The goal of inspection is for leaders to ensure they have allocated sufficient resources to meet Key Expectations, and are holding themselves and their employees accountable for delivering on them.
Approaches to inspection may vary depending individual leadership styles. Some leaders take an active “coerce and compel” approach to checking in on progress. At the opposite end of the spectrum, some leaders opt for a “wait and see” approach, providing employees with minimal support or guidance. Ideally, leaders take a positive, principled approach to inspection that falls in between these two extremes.
Inspecting progress toward Key Expectations should balance persistent follow-up, high quality standards, and an analytical, supportive, and trusting approach. Rather than being punitive or retroactive, inspection should be consistent and collaborative.
Here are some basic steps to follow when inspecting progress toward Key Expectations:
- Come to an agreement: Since employees are the ones working to meet Key Expectations every day, leaders should trust that they have a good sense of the specific indicators that can be used to gauge progress. Leaders should come to a mutual understanding with employees about how and when the inspection will be conducted.
- Conduct the inspection: Using the agreed-upon method, gauge how well each employee is delivering on Key Expectations at work. Praise them for their successes and pinpoint areas for improvement.
- Follow up: Reinforce your findings by providing additional support and resources where necessary, promoting learning opportunities, and championing standout employees who consistently meet Key Expectations.
The Power of Holding Employees Accountable
When leaders succeed in inspecting what they expect, they are able to gauge progress and proactively close gaps between current performance and desired performance, ultimately fostering greater workplace accountability among employees.
Establishing a thriving culture of accountability not only guarantees that Key Expectations will be met consistently, but also that team members will take ownership for creating solutions, demonstrate creative problem-solving, and successfully deliver on topline results for the organization.