How to Hold People Accountable
Without Alienating Them
I don’t like being seen as a bad guy or jerk by others. At times, this concern has kept me from holding people accountable. The most successful placement firm owners have learned to hold others accountable while also enhancing the trust, respect, and appreciation of those people. Why is this so important? Because clients, candidates, employees, and others will sometimes exhibit inappropriate behavior or not do what they agreed to do. This can have a significant impact on our business success and emotional well-being. When we avoid addressing these issues in productive ways, it harms our relationships and leads to undesirable outcomes. Can you relate to this?
Bob Dormat was the President of Pleeze Lykmee Staffing. Bob was a friendly, trusting person by nature and was a self-described “people pleaser.” Underneath this affable façade was an angry, cynical person who was tired of being taken advantage of. When his clients gave him job orders that weren’t fillable, he thanked them and said, “we’ll do everything we can to fill this job for you” and tried valiantly to do so. He didn’t act as a consultant to address the issues that caused jobs to be unfillable nor refuse to accept these job orders. Not surprisingly, his fill ratios were typically 8-10%. Bob didn’t set proper expectations with his clients and candidates and didn’t address inappropriate behaviors with them either. He interacted with his employees in the same manner. He had constant “candidate problems” and experienced significant issues with employee productivity, engagement, and retention.
Bob’s business was barely making it, so he hired Accountability Pros, LLC, to help him correct the problems he was creating. After working with them for a year, Pleeze Lykmee’s fill ratios improved to 32.5%, and he had far fewer headaches with clients and candidates. He was also elated to have a significant increase in his staff’s level of trust and respect for him. For the first time ever, his employees regularly took ownership of their behaviors and the outcomes they created. As a result, their productivity and engagement leaped. In reality, most people prefer to work for leaders who bring out the best in themselves rather than nice pushovers.
The truth is that Bob didn’t change who he is. He still wanted to be liked and approved of. What changed were Bob’s mindsets, skills, and processes around accountability. Apply these principles and experience the positive impacts in your own life.
Below are some fundamental changes to help you align with the truth.
False belief # 1
Accountability is mostly about administering consequences/punishments for not meeting agreements or for behaving inappropriately.
More accurate belief
Accountability is about realizing that we own the choices we make. If I choose to miss a deadline because something of higher priority took precedence, my boss may choose to thank me for my judgment rather than punishing me for missing the deadline.
False belief # 2
If you directly address people’s undesired actions, you risk damaging relationships. You could lose clients, candidates, and employees if you’re not always pleasant and agreeable.
More accurate belief
If you address issues with other people’s behavior in an honest, respectful manner without attacking and accusing, most people will respect you more and will adjust their behavior. This is especially true if you agreed on the expected behavior upfront.
False belief #3
Most people resent being held accountable and will be angry and distance themselves from you when you do this.
More accurate belief
We all have ourselves at our best and our worst. Most people have a deep desire for their “better selves” to show up. They appreciate it when you hold them accountable in a respectful manner since it supports their better selves. You do people a disservice when you avoid addressing their accountability.
False belief # 4
Holding people accountable focuses on other people’s behavior
More accurate belief
Holding people accountable focuses on your own behavior. You can only control one person’s behavior- YOUR’S! The starting place is holding yourself accountable because the most important way you teach and set expectations are through the example you set with others. So, holding others accountable is about holding yourself accountable to follow through on what you said you’d do for yourself and others.
Mindset changes must be accompanied by skill changes to be effective. Below are the critical skills required to hold yourself and others accountable. The good news is that skills are developed, not inborn. You develop these skills through reading, training, and quality coaching and feedback. From there, you apply constant practice and the commitment to improve.
- Self-awareness & self-honesty: It’s crucial to develop the awareness that accountability is about owning your own choices and behaviors. Start by noticing where you don’t hold yourself accountable. Pay attention to the times you choose excuses and rationalizations rather than acknowledging you made a choice, whether it was a good one or not.
- Set clear expectations: How often are you frustrated by low employee productivity when, in fact, you have not communicated clear expectations about what you expect from others?
- Embrace imperfection: When you pressure yourself and others to be perfect, you encourage the impulse to use excuses and rationalizations. By acknowledging that nobody will do everything right all of the time, you make it easier for yourself and others to take ownership of their choices. This also helps develop self-awareness and self-honesty since you don’t feel pressure to deny the truth to uphold your perfection.
- Difficult Conversations: You can never excel in relationships without the ability to have difficult conversations about things that truly matter. People who excel in this art focus on the problem rather than the person. This means to focus on the facts/data instead of the rightness or wrongness of the person. This reduces defensiveness since the problem, not the person, is in question. Holding yourself and others accountable becomes easier as you enhance this skill. For example, you can say, “I noticed you made 50 calls last week rather the 150 calls you agreed to” instead of, “I’m disappointed at how uncommitted you are to being successful.”
Processes are the consistent, systematic actions taken to achieve the desired results. It’s important to have them in clear, written form so that everyone involved can agree on expectations. When your processes are simple, rational, tested, and tweaked for effectiveness, they do the “heavy lifting” for you. This supports people to take the required actions to consistently produce the desired outcomes. Allow your people to provide objective feedback on the quality of the processes along with suggestions to improve them rather than just complaining. This fosters compliance and ownership, which is what you want. It’s unfair to expect people to comply with processes that have noticeable flaws such as being overly complicated or producing undesired outcomes (e.g., getting complaints from clients or candidates).
For example, if you want salespeople to make 150 outbound calls per week, they need a simple, effective way to record these calls. You also want a way to determine if these calls are actually made as reported. Expecting accountability without effective processes is like expecting people to drive to a specific location without roads.
Accountability is often the most difficult leadership function for most leaders. Leaders can’t escape the truth that they are either causing, contributing to, or tolerating all wanted behaviors in their organizations. The desire to be seen favorably causes leaders to avoid holding their people accountable. The leaders who become skilled at holding themselves and others accountable are consistently viewed in a far more positive light than the ones who are committed to being perceived as nice and likable.