Several years ago, a client requested a meeting to help her resolve a situation with an employee. When we sat down, she told me that the issue was with a direct report who was unable to meet deadlines.
She asked me what she could do to motivate this employee to get work done on time. I asked for a bit more clarification and said said the following:
Her: “Every time a project is due, she ends up showing up in my office a day or two before the deadline and telling me that she needs more time.”
Me: “How do you respond when she asks for more time?”
Her: “Well, I give it to her of course. She isn’t ready with the deliverables, so I have little choice.”
Me: “How long has this been going on?”
Her: “I don’t know…probably a year or so.”
After more discussion, it seemed apparent to me where the problem was…and it had little to do with her employee. After all, if an employee can walk into a manager’s office and ask for a deadline extension whenever they want and always get it, where is the accountability?
She asked what I thought she should do.
Me: “It sounds to me like you’ve taught her that deadlines are meaningless.”
Her: “Huh? Deadlines aren’t meaningless.”
Me: “Well, if every time you set a deadline I can walk into your office and get an extension whenever I want, haven’t you essentially taught me that your original deadlines are meaningless?”
Upon further reflection, she realized that although she didn’t start this pattern, she was making it substantially worse by enabling the behavior. She decided before we concluded to stop granting regular deadline extensions.
Holding people accountable to their commitments is a key job for managers. Three elements are essential to establish accountability:
- Communicate expectations in advance of the assignment.
- Connect at regular intervals to discuss progress and provide coaching.
- Give praise, support, or feedback once the work is complete.
How much time we spend on each of these three areas varies substantially, depending on the development level and past performance of the person we are managing. However, elements of all three are necessary to ensure accountability.
While these three steps may appear simple, it’s so common for managers to miss one or more of these steps on a regular basis, that I never assume it’s being done well. Whenever a manager in an organization asks me to coach one of their employees, one of the questions I always ask at the first meeting is, “What do you want me to do if I discover that there is something YOU are doing that is getting in their way?”
So, that’s my question for you today: When you consider these three elements of accountability, what are you doing (or not doing) that is getting in people’s way? You are welcome to answer in the comments below.