Two workers talking and smiling
Steps & strategies to hold your workers accountable

Many managers, supervisors and employees always have excuses for not completing tasks on time. A lot of leaders struggle with holding people accountable. They are often afraid if they’re too tough by demanding accountability, their people will resist and potentially quit their positions. They ask me what consequences they should impose on employees to force them to be accountable. But you can’t force people to do something. They decide if, when and how diligently they will work on an activity or responsibility. When you tell your direct reports you are going to hold them accountable to finish this activity on time or on budget, they think: “What if I don’t perform? I’m not sure I can get it done on time with all my other priorities. What are the consequences if I’m late? Is this a threat? Or what?”

Accountability requires strength. It may require you to confront employees about their lack of performance, and then deal with their reactions to your observations, comments or accusations. Most everyone wants to be accountable, do a good job and be successful. Therefore, holding someone accountable is a result of you caring about their success,. As a company owner or leader, it’s important for you to hold people accountable to hit their goals, complete projects on time and achieve results. 

Unfortunately, too many people associate accountability in a negative, restrictive or constraining way. They don’t want to be held accountable as it may lead to unfriendly conversations, pointing out flaws, or uncovering weaknesses which have prevented them from achieving desired results. 

Holding people accountable is an act of caring versus reprimanding or admonishing poor performance. When you care about people and their success, your approach to holding them accountable changes in a way that helps them. The weaknesses which are uncovered can be addressed and improved. This allows for an opportunity to learn and try new strategies and ideas to achieve success. Holding people accountable is about identifying and strengthening challenges to allow them to perform and hit their goals.

The No. 1 reason people aren’t accountable to perform tasks is a lack of understanding the goals, expectations or required deadlines. When they don’t know exactly what’s expected, people are being paid to guess what to work on and how to do it. When they clearly know the specific measurable objectives, targets and processes, they’ll feel confident and work diligently to achieve the expected results. 


ACCTP: Accountability Plan 

A - Accountability Starts With You!

  • Your people watch you. You are the model of behavior you exhibit, and therefore influence others to follow your lead. If you don’t do what you say you’ll do or don’t follow company standards and systems, they won’t think they have to do them. 
  • First, you must be accountable, hold yourself accountable, hold people accountable, and never tolerate poor performance or lack of accountability.
  • You are accountable for holding employees accountable to achieve results. You provide positive input, coaching and mentorship. And, when they don’t perform, you realize and accept the fact that you haven’t performed either.


C — Clear Expectations

  • Determine and define clear expectations and measurable results each person is responsible for accomplishing. 
  • Define and document clear measurables, targets, goals, and results. Establish the specific deadlines, timelines and milestones. A timeline explains the step-by-step milestones or phases to complete the project and a deadline defines when everything is due and must be completed. Develop an action plan to accomplish the expected results. Define the level of authority for financial decisions. Set check-in and follow-up meeting dates.
  • Agree on priorities and the expected level of effort. Remember that each accountability has only one owner. Assign who owns the accountability and is responsible to perform whatever’s required to complete the work and achieve the expected result.
  • To make sure you have clearly communicated expectations, ask: Do you clearly understand the objective, target and commitment? How did you interpret what we just agreed to? To be sure we are on the same page, please explain your commitment and expected results.  
  • Never assume they know what you want. Make sure you both are clear on the objectives and outcomes. 


C - Commitment Goes Two Ways

  • Get buy-in and a two-way written commitment to perform, achieve the goals and produce results. Agree on ownership — who owns the accountability and is expected to perform and solve all requirements and problems associated with the activity. Team members are accountable to make decisions and complete the work on their own. The manager’s job is not to do the work or solve workers’ problems but rather to offer advice or suggestions. Ask them to provide solutions for how they can solve their challenges. Explain why their goals are important to the overall success of the company. Plus explain any incentives or consequences when they succeed or fail. Ask direct reports how they want to be managed.
  • Develop and agree on an action performance plan with detailed steps and plans to monitor and measure progress. Always set and confirm the dates for regular check-in meetings.


T - Track, Follow Up, Monitor, Measure Results and Provide Feedback

  • Make sure you have clearly defined accountabilities and agree on the specific results expected.
  • Set specific times to meet, monitor, review progress and evaluate results.
  • Keep an open line of communication of the progress, timelines and results to track the action items. Don’t micromanage your direct reports. Provide positive feedback and regularly review progress and results as soon as available. Discuss progress and actual versus expected results in a clear and honest manner based on facts. Let them know where they stand and provide regular open, positive and honest feedback on performance and progress. 
  • Check in weekly, at every milestone or phase to evaluate progress. Ask inquiring questions like: How’s your project going? Are you moving forward and progressing well? Where are you at this point? Do you need any help to achieve your goal? What’s your opinion of your results and performance?
  • When poor progress occurs, focus on the behavior and how they can improve. Follow up immediately, and confront when not in conformance with commitments. Provide support, training and constructive input when needed. Provide regular praise and recognize positive performance. Discuss how their results impact the overall project or company.
  • Remember, the manager’s job is to make sure team members have the resources, knowledge and assistance they need to achieve their goals and objectives. 


P  — Performance  (Enforce and Hold People Accountable For Results)

  • Proactively address and correct poor performance as soon as possible in a respectful, one-on-one basis. Never confront in front of others.
  • Determine the basic cause of an employee’s poor performance, and remember it’s not always the lack of effort or responsibility. The issue might be: lack of skill, training or knowledge; lack of confidence or ability to communicate misunderstandings; workload and unclear priorities; or the manager’s temperament, distrust, respect, treatment or attitude.
  • Stay in touch. When they don’t perform, ask: Do you understand what the assignment was? What was your understanding of what you agreed to do? What can I expect from you the next time you commit to perform or meet deadlines?
  • Link performance to the consequences or incentives which will be in effect. Remind them of their commitment to perform. Think like a coach and mentor to develop an action improvement plan if required. Agree on a check-in follow-up plan for future commitments.


The choice is yours. You be accountable and hold your people accountable, or you can continue to expect and receive poor results.