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  • Wendy Bruce, ACC, CPCC

Holding others accountable

In each of my recent leadership workshops, when I have asked “what is one thing you want to take away from today’s session?” the common response has been “how do I hold others accountable?”


“Accountability is a noun that describes accepting responsibility…..; an individual has accountability for acts and behaviors. Sometimes, though, taking accountability means admitting you made a mistake. Punishment may result, but accountability shows ownership and a willingness to admit mistakes.” vocabulary.com


So welcome to my 4 week series on accountability:


Week 1 - Are you holding the right person accountable?

Week 2 - Holding the right person accountable

Week 3 - Accountability and the repeat offender

Week 4 - Holding someone accountable for the last time - professional development plans


Week 1

Holding someone accountable is more than just a conversation. As the definition above indicates there is an “accepting” of responsibility. To accept it, the individual needs clarity about the intended outcome, appropriate resources, and the skill or ability to perform. An unclear expectation could be interpreted multiple ways depending on the skill level of the individual accepting responsibility. The manager has responsibility for ensuring that directions are appropriate to the individual’s abilities.


For example: Let’s say Joe is responsible for managing the IT help desk, he accepted the job and is responsible for the outcome. To you, the help desk responsibility includes new employee set-up, providing access to relevant systems and orientation to company-wide electronic security requirements; and the daily expectation that job tickets be resolved promptly, computers, peripherals and parts be in inventory.


For one employee the nuances implied within that summary description are understood. To someone whose experience thus far is limited to following directions, the summary description may not include knowing that a new exec gets a new laptop while a new support person gets a refurbished one; it may not include any sort of record-keeping that security orientation was performed or what to do about the fact that 3 new employees started the same day but only 2 laptops are usually kept in stock.


This person can be counted on to reliably perform every ticket, in the order received and not be sidetracked by competing demands. Until s/he has been taught those nuances, you can hardly expect them to be accountable for giving a new exec a refurbished laptop. They accept responsibility for the job “as they understand it”. Often I see situations whereby someone was promoted from a top performing individual contributor into a manager position without manager training. This will likely bring you accountability issues.


Think about your current “problem children”. To what extent is your disappointment “I just want him to do his job”? Without clarification that you both see his/her job the same way the accountability for the lesser experienced employees successful performance of his duties lies with the manager to translate and expand upon the outlined responsibilities.


In next week’s post I’ll describe how to have the conversation with someone who clearly understood what was expected of them and failed to deliver.

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