4 Questions Help You Hold People Accountable

Posted by on Mar 6, 2014 in Accountability, Leadership | 0 comments

Anger Management

Too many managers and leaders avoid or delay holding people accountable because they find it uncomfortable, or because they are too trusting, or even too disorganized.  Then they get angry (at themselves and the employee). Here are four questions and an outline to help you.

Don’t manage by anger.  Start with a primary assumption:  People generally want to do well at work and feel proud of their accomplishments.  You want to trust them to do well, and you also need to track their performance (trust & track).  You start with clear expectations including how each person’s role fits into the whole.


1.  If an individual or team isn’t doing well, what’s in the way?

  • Missing skills
  • Misunderstanding expectations
  • System or process obstacles
  • Individual obstacles
  • Behavior/attitude issues

2.  How do you find out where the problem lies?

  • Ask the individual what they believe is in their way
  • Verify understanding of expectations
  • Explore skill gaps
  • Examine the process and the system (other contributing people, departments, etc)
  • Determine specific impact of behavior/attitude issues

Start Now


3.  When do you hold someone accountable?

Prevention and intervention:  




  • Immediately
    • Upon assigning responsibility – ask individual or team to reframe the expectations in their own words so you can verify initial understanding
  • Ongoing
    • Agree upon check-points in advance – 1 day, 1 week, 1 month, etc., or different process steps -whatever is appropriate
    • Create a simple system for you to check-in and evaluate performance at check-points (put on your calendar)
    • Addressing obstacles immediately – think “what’s going wrong and how can it be fixed?”


  • As soon as you see problems:
    • All too often we wait too long to act.  Holding someone accountable is your obligation to your organization.  It isn’t personal.  You shouldn’t need to get angry to discuss problems or the need for course corrections of any kind.
  • Review data:
    • Remind the individual of the expectations, provide data on the performance to date, discuss gap between expectations and performance.
  • Balance your role
    • Holding someone accountable isn’t the same thing as micromanagement, so manage the boundary carefully.  People need to try and sometimes even fail when the consequences to all are tolerable.

4.  What are the consequences?

  • Know the consequences at every level:
    • Organizational (lose money?  Lose clients? Lose reputation? Lose time? Etc.)
    • Team (Lose credibility?  Slow other teams? Etc.)
    • Individual (Lose respect?  Lose bonus?  Lose future opportunities? Lose job? Etc.)
  • Share the consequences for non-performance with the individual or team.
    • Separate the person from the behavior – it’s the behavior that’s the problem
    • Act on the consequences
    • Make sure they are appropriate and specific
    • Be consistent
    • Be timely

In a book based on research on shame, The Gifts of Imperfection, Brene Brown, PhD LMSW talks about accountability:

“Setting boundaries and holding people accountable is a lot more work than shaming or blaming.  But it’s also much more effective.  Shaming and blaming without accountability is toxic to couples, families, organizations, and communities. ..

Additionally, if we don’t follow through with appropriate consequences, people learn to dismiss our requests – even if they sound like threats or ultimatums…

“It’s hard for us to understand that we can be compassionate and accepting while we hold people accountable for their behaviors.  We can, and, in fact, it’s the best way to do it.  We can confront someone about their behavior, or fire someone, or fail a student, or discipline a child without berating them or putting them down.  THe key is to separate people from their behaviors – to address what they’re doing, not who they are….

“When we fail to set boundaries and hold people accountable, we feel used and mistreated.”

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