There is a common theme that many leaders struggle with: they don't know how to hold their people accountable. Even if they are great at hiring A players, many leaders still are left with that feeling that their people could be doing more or better work.
Rather than first finding fault with the employee, a great leader looks first at him or herself. And when you take that look in the mirror, you might find that you have not been effective at holding your people accountable for their results.
The good news is that you can rectify this today and become a better leader with the help of three simple steps:
1. Be clear.
Many times the reason you aren't getting the best performance from your people is because you're not crystal clear about what you want them to do. You know what you want them to do inside your head. But until we all have the benefit of ESP-type mind reading, it's your job to communicate exactly what you want your people to do. And you need to write it down on paper or in an email. When you do, think big: go beyond piecemeal objectives and focus on the things you want them to do over the next six to 12 months. You should also use the principles of SMART goals--short for specific, measurable, actionable, realistic and time-related. That means you need to be very specific about what you want done and when you want it. You can also set bounds for the goals in the sense that you can have a minimum you need, an optimum result, and a visionary outcome that surpasses expectations.
2. Follow up regularly.
While checking in with your people seems like an obvious thing to do, it's amazing how often it gets overlooked when you get busy fighting the daily fires inside your business. What sounds simple to do is actually devilishly hard. But if you want to build accountability then you need to establish a cadence of meetings with your team where you review that printed set of objectives in a regular basis--maybe every two weeks or every month. One tip is to set aside one day a month where you meet with all of your direct reports for 45 minutes each. Yes, that might mean spending the entire day in these meetings. But the pay off is that you create alignment and get your team off and running in the right direction. You can even schedule these days a year in advance to ensure they become the norm. If you can do that, you'll find that your employees will come to the meeting prepared to discuss their progress versus trying to adjust to requests for random updates.
3. Share the brutal truth--and then coach.
One of the things that we all struggle with is realistically assessing how we are performing relative to our goals. We tend to be overly optimistic about what we can achieve. That's why when I hold my update meetings, I take on the mindset of an objective outsider who might be called in to evaluate a project. That way, I can talk in brutally realistic terms about whether something is on time or not--and then talk about what someone might need to get back on schedule. That's where the coaching element comes into play. Your goal should not be to just slam an employee for falling behind, but to help them with resources, contacts, or the new knowledge and context they might need to do to make their project a success.
The trick here is consistency. It's the new year and we are all making commitments to be better. But don't let your commitment to improved accountability fall away like the gym membership. Try to do these three simple steps consistently for a year.
If you can do these three things--be clear, follow up regularly, and share the brutal truth while coaching--you'll not only greatly enhance the accountability of your team, you'll also become a far stronger leader as a result.