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Today’s Retention Strategies Require True Accountability

Flexibility is the buzzword when it comes to retention strategies today: flexible scheduling, pay, location, or the flexibility to pursue training opportunities or build skills. Personalization is the key to making that flexibility work. The theory goes that if you can tap into the specific needs and wants of every individual on your team, you’ll be much better equipped to meaningfully reward those individuals for a job well-done.

At first glance, this transactional arrangement puts an awful lot of the power in the employees’ hands – anything is up for negotiation and everyone wants a special deal. However, there’s an often-overlooked element to these types of employer-employee agreements that makes all the difference: true accountability.

This is how I define true accountability: knowing in advance that one will have their actions measured against expectations, and that those actions will have real consequences. It is not enough to hold someone accountable after they have taken action without first explaining, in no uncertain terms, exactly how their behavior will be attached to either reward or punishment.

Of course, this is often the easy part for managers to explain. If the employee achieves a certain end-result, they will be rewarded with ‘X.’ If they fail to meet that result, they will either receive no reward or they will have to deal with some kind of negative consequence. The harder part of the equation is establishing the trust that managers maintain a fair and accurate process for tracking employee performance and then tying that performance to earned consequences.

What would be the first thing any employee would want to know if their boss came and told them, “If you do a great job today, I am going to give you a $1,000 bonus. If you do an average job, you get to keep your job. If you do a bad job today, you are fired.” The first thing they would want to know is exactly what a great job, an average job, and a bad job looked like. Right? After all, if they are going to be held accountable for their actions and there are going to be consequences for them, they would want to know exactly what is expected and required of them. They would also want to know that someone is keeping a close eye on every aspect of their performance so that it isn’t missed when they do a great job. And, finally, they would want to ensure that their performance will be measured based on the expectations and requirements that were spelled out up front – and on nothing else.

Every manager must have a fair and accurate process for tying real consequences to each employee’s real concrete actions. What does that process look like? The specifics are, of course, different for every organization, team, or manager. But the basic fundamentals look something like this:

  • Spell out expectations in advance in vivid terms
  • Track employee performance every step of the way
  • Follow through with real consequences based on whether the employee’s actual performance meets those expectations or not

The most important takeaway is that in order for this process to work it cannot be done just once or twice a year, during formal performance evaluations. The process of creating true accountability has to be done up close and often. Get managers in the habit of managing every single day, checking in on the performance and progress of direct reports by engaging in substantive communication, and quantifiably tracking that performance using a regular system. Don’t let complications become excuses for not practicing true accountability. You can hold people accountable, even in a complex world.

About the Author:
Bruce Tulgan is an adviser to business leaders all over the world and a sought-after keynote speaker and seminar leader. He is the founder and CEO of RainmakerThinking, Inc., a management research and training firm, as well as RainmakerThinking.Training, an on-line training company. Bruce is the best-selling author of numerous books including Bridging the Soft Skills Gap (2015), The 27 Challenges Managers Face (2014), Not Everyone Gets a Trophy (2009; revised and expanded edition 2016), It’s Okay to be the Boss (2007), Winning the Talent Wars (2001), FAST Feedback (1999), and the classic Managing Generation X(1995). His work has been the subject of thousands of news stories around the world. He has written pieces for numerous publications, including the New York Times, USA Today, the Harvard Business Review, Training Magazine, and Human Resources. Bruce also holds a sixth-degree black belt in classical Okinawan Uechi Ryu Karate Do. He lectures periodically at the Yale University School of Management in New Haven, Connecticut, where he lives with his wife Dr. Debby Applegate, author of the Pulitzer-Prize winning biography The Most Famous Man in America: The Biography of Henry Ward Beecher(2006) as well as Madam: The Notorious Life and Times of Polly Adler (forthcoming).

About RainmakerThinking, Inc.:
RainmakerThinking, Inc. is a management research, training and consulting firm and the leading authority on generational issues in the workplace, founded and run by best-selling author and internationally recognized management expert Bruce Tulgan.

Since 1993, their research has included hundreds of thousands of participants from hundreds of organizations in a wide range of industries. RainmakerThinking continues to pursue three ongoing longitudinal studies: The Generational Shift in the Workforce (since 1993), Leadership/Management/and Supervision (since 1995), and Human Capital Management (since 1997).

Based on this ongoing research, RainmakerThinking has provided assessment, training, and consulting services for more than 400 different organizations ranging from the United States Armed Forces to Wal-Mart.

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