How Good Managers Can Hold Employees Accountable

Our client Jeff was happy with the seminars we ran with his managers last year. This time, he wanted us to work with his employees again, explaining, “My team’s lost their motivation, and I think a jump-start from your presentation is just what they need.”

I was taken aback by the surprised look Jeff gave me when I said, “Great, but first, have you talked with your team members face-to-face?”

“I’ve hit a roadblock, Paul.” Jeff’s frustration poured out. “Even when I have the time to talk with them, I feel like I must be speaking in a foreign language. All I get is lip service or blank looks. Too many people have that attitude around here. That’s why I was hoping you could help me stir the pot. I could use some ideas to jump-start my team, so we can finish the year with a bang.”

No wonder Jeff was frustrated. He was a good manager trapped in a labyrinth of accountability. He wasn’t getting the results from his people. Like so many people, they took the path of least resistance, and Jeff was looking for a quick fix. Let’s face it, there are an awful lot of people who’d rather put up with mediocrity than make waves with employees. They’re terrified that if they push their people too hard, they’ll quit, and then they’ll have to find replacements, and what if the new employees are no better than the previous ones?

How can you hold your team members accountable unless they know exactly what they’re being held accountable for? How do you get everyone to embrace accountability? As a manager, it’s imperative that your employees thoroughly understand how their duties fit with the corporate goals. Unless each employee has a complete understanding of what those goals are and how they’re measured, you won’t get the maximum possible results. When people aren’t held accountable for their performance, employees’ motivation goes down the drain, and one way or another, everybody suffers.

Have you ever seen a new employee come aboard with lots of energy, only to run out of gas before long? Why is that? Could it be, for example, that there’s peer pressure from co-workers, fearing the new hire is making them look bad? Or could it be that the new hire is looking around at her peers, thinking, “Hey, I’m the only one working my tail off around here! Maybe I should slack off and just join the pack.” Hey, when people come into the company and see the pace at which everyone else is working, they adapt to that speed.

Few things take the wind out of a good employee’s sails more thoroughly than being trapped in a corporate culture that seems to reward mediocrity. This can make even the most gung-ho team member feel like she’s unappreciated and wasting her time in this workplace. What’s the point of trying to be a cut above when you’re held accountable to the exact same standards as the people who consistently do as little as they can get away with? Most people want to be held accountable, especially if they’re doing a good job and want to be recognized for it.

An effective team leader initiates a meaningful dialogue with his team, setting up areas of responsibility; creating smart, specific performance standards; establishing smart criteria. Remember, all the team members are individuals with motivations as different as their work styles.

You’ll risk losing your best workers if you don’t discover ways for them to feel successful and accomplished in their positions. The best way to understand what people value is to engage. So talk with your employees, and really listen to what success means to them.

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