The Straight Truth

holding others accountable i we you

Holding others accountable. I / We / You.

Struggle, struggle, toil and trouble. Leaders, managers, supervisors, colleagues, co-workers, subordinates running from the power of holding others accountable. Why?

Victor Lipman writes: “Research shows (as did my own experience) that many managers, even senior managers, are surprisingly weak at accountability. According to one study in Harvard Business Review, for example, 46% of high-level managers were rated poorly on the measure ‘holds people accountable — firm when they don’t deliver.'”

Are you surprisingly weak at holding others accountable?

My experience is that when I assess someone as weak in the area of holding others accountable, they are hardly surprised. The response is “Yeah I know, but it’s hard. I never really know how many chances to give someone.” The absolute worst answer I hear is “I inherited this bad performer, the boss before me did not hold this person accountable and they should have. I have nothing to go on. The performance reviews are all meets or exceeds expectations.”

The reasons for being weak at holding others accountable continue to elucidate my approach to teaching everyone in the accountability food chain how to use their skill to their highest good and the well-being and productivity of the organization.

I, We, You Model of holding others accountable.

Use “I” and only “I” when:

  • The person(s) you are holding accountable is right about your lack of clarity and expectations.
  • You are willing to find out that missed expectations or failure to produce expected results was due to something you didn’t know you didn’t know.
  • You have played a role in the lack of accountability on the part of others because you genuinely over-estimated their ability to own, act on, and answer for the results, left out information, or failed to provide needed resources hoping they would “figure it out.”
  • You are the problem. Authentically owning the mess created by your lack of accountability in order to go back into the situation and press the re-set button can only happen with you owning the entire situation first.

Use “we” when:

  • A group has dropped the ball and would rather learn and move on than tell the story of ‘who did what’ with a strong dose of finger-pointing and blaming.
  • The organization’s culture supports a mindset of ownership for results good or bad and truly holds accountability as a personal value that promotes learning.
  • Coaching accountability is preferred to transform situations from stuck to moving forward over managing accountability in a prescribed transactional way that involves the implementation of consequences.

When “we” need to be accountable it is vitally important to avoid “sharing” accountability. Everyone has 100% personal accountability available to him or her, individually and collectively at the same time. That 100% personal accountability does not depend on role, title, or level of authority. Accountability starts with mindset; ownership for results good or bad before you start something. “I am totally personally accountable for my success at work.” With Accountability articulated this way, you can have a very productive meeting that makes the next moves accountable.

Use “you” when:

  • Consequences will be explained and there will be follow-through.
  • The situation must be managed transactionally. i.e. Three policy violations and you are terminated.
  • The conversation is around requirements of the job, expectations that must be met, or regulations that require adherence.

This is the most challenging approach in holding others accountable because the person must hear you clearly and understand there is consequence associated with it. Lack of follow through on the stated consequence sets the culture. Whenever there is consequence it is vital to state it up front.

“I need to be very clear about where you are right now. The policy, as discussed in orientation and that you signed, warrants termination if there is another violation. Are you clear about where you stand?”

When “you” is used you are either writing up a Performance Improvement Plan or using a company-wide write up process for managing problem performers. Truth be told, many organizations don’t want you to hold people accountable and invoke consequences because those individuals being written up often go complain to HR. You can use that as your excuse or you can get good at holding people accountable knowing not all such interactions are “you” intensive.

Treating every situation that involves holding someone accountable the same is not the same as being fair. Consider that this lens of I, We, You provides a great place to build your skill. What’s the situation and which do you need to use?