Improve Engagement From Slackers By NOT Holding Them Accountable

SlackerIn my coaching practice I work with many leaders on different behavior issues, but I’ve noticed a trend lately in leaders struggling with their ability to hold people accountable. For many, it’s the issue of not wanting to have a difficult conversation.The primary reason it’s difficult typically results from not outlining clear expectations up front.

By “clear” expectations, I mean providing details about the who, what, when, where and why’s of that assignment/expectation AND following up to make sure the work is progressing as it should. If it’s not, then intervene, remove roadblocks or re-negotiate due dates. That follow up is the magic in not being disappointed in the results delivered back to you.

While setting clear expectations may make it easier to confront employees when they are not meeting expectations, research from Leadership IQ may provide more motivation to beef up your skills in holding people accountable. Their study finds that, in 42% of companies, low performers actually report being more engaged and enjoy their work environment more than middle and high performers do.

Why, you ask? The research indicates that many leaders are not holding employees accountable for their work, allowing the slackers to skate by while the conscientious, high-performing workers end up staying at the office late, correcting the work of the low performers and getting more pissed-off by the minute.

The bottom-line result is that your top performers become demotivated, frustrated, fed up and ultimately disengage – often times leaving the organization. The message you’re sending is one of encouraging mediocrity – your extra effort doesn’t matter – and that is never a place a top performer wants to work.

So what are some ways to build in more accountability with those you lead? Here are a few suggestions:

  • Break down the details of the definition of Accountability – Start with the definition as: “Accountability enables activities of a system to be traced to individuals who may then be held responsible for their actions.” Bring the team together and hammer out what that really means within your organization. What are the “activities of a system”? Outline specific examples. What does “held responsible” mean? Agree on the definition of responsibility before allowing anyone to leave the room.
  • Referring to the suggestions made in The Five Dysfunctions Of A Team,  author Patrick Lencioni offers:
    • Publish goals and standards.   Team members hold one another accountable by clarifying publicly exactly what the team needs to achieve, who needs to deliver what and how everyone must behave in order to succeed.   The enemy of accountability is ambiguity, and even when a team has initially committed to a plan or a set of behavioral standards, it is important to keep those agreements in the open so that no one can easily ignore them.
    • Conduct Simple & Regular Progress Reviews.  Team members should regularly communicate with one another, either verbally or in written form about how they feel their teammates are doing against stated objectives and standards.
    • Offer Team Rewards.  Shift away from individual rewards to team achievement, the team can create a culture of accountability. A team is unlikely to stand by quietly and fail because a team member is not doing his part.

So if you’re still uncomfortable with the notion of holding people accountable? I’ll leave you with this:

Leadership IQ’s research indicates that when people describe the best boss they’ve ever had, they never say, “my leader coddled me and always made me happy.” Instead they say,”my leader challenged me, pushed me past my limits, and taught me to aim higher than I ever thought possible.”

Martha Duesterhoft is a Partner with PeopleResults.  Follow her on Twitter @mduesterhoft or connect via email at