Management trends can come and go, and a few can even re-emerge after lying in wait. One idea to re-emerge in recent times is that the buck needs to stop somewhere.
Slowly, organisations have started to re-invent the concept of accountability.
Accountability is back on the agenda
The result was a more consultative style of leadership, combined with an expectation that all team members will be intrinsically motivated by the goals of the organisation and their own work ethic.
However, while those are worthy ideas I’ve seen the pendulum swing too far from the ‘command and control’ style of management to the consultative, where everybody gets a say.
Now it’s starting to edge its way back to a happy medium, where organisations have started to realise they still need their managers to lead people effectively to reach their strategic objectives.
You can’t just fill employees with a central purpose and let them go.
Instead, knowing what’s expected of employees by their manager and getting regular feedback on progress is driving employee engagement.
Invariably, that means accountability.
Research by Gallup shows that employees want to know what’s expected of them – so how do you keep people accountable without micromanaging them?
1. Decide on your destination
Note the use of ‘decide’, not ‘consult’ or ‘agree’.
There is a place for collaboration on goal formation because it increases engagement, but at some point a manager needs to make decisions and provide direction.
This, after all, is why you’re the boss.
Whether you work to OKRs, KPIs, KRAs, SMART goals or another acronym, is irrelevant.
Your team needs to know the outcome they’re meant to produce and it needs to make sense to them.
Your role as manager is to clearly articulate the desired outcomes and inspire your team to achieve them.
2. Point to the guardrails
Confusion and anxiety can be paralysing.
If your team doesn’t have some general guidelines about how they are expected to operate, you can waste a lot of time getting to your destination.
Guardrails may prevent your staff veering onto a path that won’t lead to the outcome you want, swerving into a ditch of overwhelm or ploughing unwelcome into other people’s special projects.
Where are the guardrails?
Look to your company values, policies and strategic direction and make sure they are clearly understood.
You can decide how wide or narrow you set the guardrails, but don’t forget about them. Crashing into something because you’ve ignored its existence will still hurt.
3. Install regular checkpoints
Imagine a business as a highway.
A manager may assume that a team may travel on the best route available if they know the destination they’re trying to reach – but of course it rarely works that way.
Instead of assuming smooth motoring all the way, I suggest using an early-warning system of trouble ahead.
The best way to do this is to hold regular one to one meetings with everyone on your team.
The meetings can be quick and simple, or you may choose to use a program like 15Five to make them even more efficient.
Your meetings only to consist of your own version of the following questions:
- What are you most proud of achieving (in the last week)?
- Where are you stuck?
- How can I help you right now?
The last question is your opportunity to coach your team member in the moment on whatever issue arises.
Don’t feel tempted to take over a task that’s challenging them. Instead, ask questions to help them find their own solution.
The checkpoints exist to help you build trusting relationships, not just to check for obstacles on the route to your destination.
When fear of being a micromanager causes a leader to take their hands off the wheel, they can leave their teams bewildered and lost.
Activity will still happen, but it may not always be produce the results the organisation needs.
Holding people accountable in a modern workplace is not about putting them on tram tracks where they must stick to a set way of doing things and depend on signals from you for their every move.
Instead, with a combination of clear direction, guardrails and checkpoints, you will reach your destination sooner with engaged and productive staff.