By Bruce Tulgan
In order to make accountability work, it’s not enough to chant the slogan around the office and hope people get it.
First, accountability only works as a management tool if the employee knows in advance that she will have to answer for her actions. No matter how much data you may be gathering about your employee’s performance, that data means nothing to you or the employee if you don’t use it as a guideline for performance expectations. If you tell an employee that she is accountable for her actions after she has taken action, it won’t affect that person’s behavior. Likewise, if you punish a person for her poor performance – without having told her in advance that her actions would be attached to punishments and rewards – it’s too late to affect behavior in that instance.
Second, employees must trust and believe that there is a fair and accurate process for keeping track of their actions and tying their behavior to real consequences. Imagine if your boss came to you today and said, “Today, I am really going to hold you accountable. If you do a great job, I’ll give you a bonus. If you do an average job, you get to keep your job. If you do a bad job, you’re fired.” The first thing you’d want to know is exactly what a great job, an average job, and a bad job look like. After all, if you are going to be held accountable for your actions and there are going to be consequences for them, you would want to know exactly what is expected of you. You’d also want to know that someone is keeping a close eye on you all day so that they don’t miss it when you do a great job. And, finally, you’d want to ensure that your performance will be measured based on those expectations and requirements that were spelled out up front – and on nothing else.
Even if you are maximizing your data collection using IoT, you need to make sure there is a fair and accurate process for tying real consequences to each employee’s real concrete actions. What does that process look like?
- Spell out expectations in advance in vivid terms. Look at what is being measured about the employee’s performance, and how that reflects on the quality of their performance. Make sure that the data you are gathering is not only meaningful, but accurate: does the data measure an employee’s concrete actions? Or merely automatic activity associated with those actions?
- Track employee performance every step of the way. Don’t just keep tabs on the employee’s preparation and end product. Make sure you are in some way documenting what and how they are doing at each major step of the process.
- Follow through with real consequences based on whether the employee’s actual performance meets those expectations or not. Remember to keep your evaluation of their performance limited to the metrics discussed in step one. If this doesn’t provide a truly accurate evaluation of the employee’s work, why? What can you change to gather better information on which to evaluate them?
Of course, this process cannot be done once or twice a year, during formal performance evaluations. The process of creating real accountability, and real improvement, has to be done up close and often. In the real world, however, you will encounter many complications that make it nearly impossible to maintain an airtight process linking individual actions to consequences. Don’t let those complications become excuses for not practicing real 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 online training company. Bruce is the best-selling author of numerous books including Not Everyone Gets a Trophy (Revised & Updated, 2016), Bridging the Soft Skills Gap (2015), The 27 Challenges Managers Face (2014), and It’s Okay to be the Boss (Revised & Updated, 2014). He has written for the New York Times, the Harvard Business Review, HR Magazine, Training Magazine, and the Huffington Post. Bruce can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, you can follow him on Twitter @BruceTulgan, or visit his website www.rainmakerthinking.com.