How to Hold Someone Accountable

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

I very much enjoy your blog and always find improvement opportunities within your messages.  As you point out rather frequently, holding the right people accoutable is crucial.  In that regard, I would like to ask, what different ways have you found effective in “holding people accountable” beyond expressing your dissatisfaction with their performance, formal performance improvement requirments (PIP)  or replacing them?  I would like to know what tools/techniques you recommend and believe most effective.

Here is my short list –

  • Raising my voice.
  • Repeated criticism.
  • Frequent complaining.
  • Public flogging.

The person who believes these methods effective is someone who has no children.  None of these work.  I spent several hours with one of my executive groups on this very issue and at the end of the day, here was our conclusion.  The only person who can truly hold me accountable is me.  All other forms of harassment are largely ineffective.  Self-accountability is the only path.

Yet, we still say that we have to hold someone accountable.  My definition of a manager is that person held accountable for the output of their team.  So I say it, too.

So, here’s a better list of conditions required for self-accountability.

  • Make the expectation (of output) clear.
  • Ensure the availability of required resources.
  • Validate the required skills and sufficient practice for the task.
  • Match the persons capability with the capability required for the task (measured in time span).
  • Ensure the person places a high value on the work (interest or passion for the work).
  • Ensure the person engages in reasonable behaviors required to complete the task.

If we still observe underperformance or misbehavior, we have to make a judgment as to the cause.  Then we have to make a judgment if this cause can be corrected.

3 thoughts on “How to Hold Someone Accountable

  1. James Lawther

    Tom, I like your first list very much (I have children), I agree, you are wasting your time.

    Your second list I am a little sceptical about.

    So I have a couple of questions for you:

    Why is it that it is always politicians who are keen to hold others to account?

    Can you really hold people accountable to the performance of a system that they are only a cog within?

    I know he is a little last century, but to quote a quality guru..

    Hold every body accountable? Ridiculous ~ W. Edwards. Deming

  2. Gordon

    I would add ‘follow up’ onto the second list. When I’ve managed accountability issues, I found that I succeeded when I followed up, but failed when I didn’t. For example, an employee is struggling to meet their deliverables. If you say you want something done on Friday and follow up on Friday to confirm, it sends the message that you’re watching and it is important enough for you to stop by and check their progress. If you get busy and ask them a few days late, the message (and importance of accountability) will be lost.

    This is not to say you do this every time, but demonstrate that you are watching and then highlight that this is the behaviour you expect when they respond appropriately.


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