Raising accountability

David Klaasen

Being courageous

There is no hiding place in small and medium sized businesses. Everyone plays a critical role and needs to pull their weight; yet directors and business owners regularly complain about a lack of accountability. So who is responsible for holding people to account?

As a manager of others, be that Managing Director, team leader or professional expert, you can’t just dump accountability on people. They need to accept it and take it on board. If there isn’t an agreement about that acceptance, you get into the blame game and defensiveness.

It is also useful to consider how much accountability you are agreeing to in your own role. Do your people see you as being accountable? It takes courage to stand up and be counted for what you have done – and what you haven’t. Some people love it because it gives them a sense of professional pride, but for others it fills them with dread. It also takes courage to hold others to account because that means confronting issues head on. How courageous are you being?

It’s all about the basics.Like so many things in life, getting people to be accountable needs some structure.

You need to have the basics in place - like clear and unambiguous minimum standards and/or targets with deadlines.

It is useful to remember that 40% of the working population need a clear goal to be motivated. If they are not given one, they will make up their own based on what they think is important, but that may not be what you need. Another 40% need to have a problem to fix or a negative consequence to avoid in order to be motivated. If there are no personal consequences for them then it’s not a big concern. The remaining 20% need a bit of both. How are you addressing this?

As a leader, you need to be clear about what you want and to express it to others, on a regular and ongoing basis! You also need to ensure that you are holding up your side of the accountability bargain by keeping your word. If you say you are going to do appraisals, do them. If you want your managers to set clear goals, ensure that your managers have clear goals and review them on a regular basis. It’s not rocket science. But it does take some time and effort.

It is important to recognize your own needs and preferences and to explore the needs and preferences of your people. A lot of the time people have little idea about what

directors and mangers are up to. It helps to explain what it is that you are doing and what you are ultimately accountable for. It may be an interesting exercise to consider the following...“What are you ultimately accountable for in your business?” Do your people know that?

Some Tips:Here is a simple list of 5 things you can do if you feel accountability is missing:

  1. Explain to the employee that he or she is not being accountable and explore why.
  2. Is it something you are not doing? Be prepared to remove whatever is in the way of them being accountable. This could be a lack of tools or a poor structure.  Agree to some basic goals and minimum standards and discuss the personal consequences if these are not met. This covers both of the ‘directions’ of motivation mentioned above.
  3. Set up a regular review. This may be weekly or even twice a day – you need to judge that for yourself.
  4. Consider teaching them what you mean by accountability. Don’t assume that they already know. Explain the benefits of being accountable and how it can increase confidence, motivation and career progression. Help them to see it as something that strengthens them rather than weakens them.
  5. If they are not able to achieve the level of accountability you want, you will need to reconsider their role and capabilities. This may mean finding a better or more suitable role, or it may require you to invoke the disciplinary procedures. If you are going to use the disciplinary route, make sure you have the basics mentioned above in place and that you comply with your employee handbook.


Be reasonableIf your people are not being accountable, it’s because you are not making them accountable. Getting the right structures in place is the only fair and reasonable way to do it. Clarify expectations, give regular feedback and explain consequences, both for achieving the required results and for not achieving them. People like to know where they stand. As a manager of people you need to translate the often ambiguous strategic targets into meaningful personal objectives or standards and let people know how their role fits into the bigger picture.


An ‘Inspired Working Article’ reprinted with the permission of David Klaasen, Founder and Managing Director of Inspired Working. Inspired Working works with leaders, directors and senior managers who want to avoid pitfalls and performance traps that arise when implementing their business strategy. For more information visit www.inspiredworking.com and www.the7performancetraps.co.uk for information on how to avoid the performance traps that makes it easy for people to dodge accountability.


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