Common Mistakes When Holding People Accountable
March 30, 2020 - By Wendy Lambourne, Director, MA Industrial and Organisation Psychology, Registered Psychologist with SA Medical & Dental Council
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Holding people accountable is as much about the heart as it is about the head. Leaders need both the requisite means and ability to hold their people accountable but, most importantly, they have to find the will to do so. Holding people accountable, in other words, tests leaders’ capacity for generosity and courage more than any other aspect of caring for and growing people. It is not possible to give people generosity and courage but it is possible to raise their awareness with respect to the common mistakes which leaders make when holding people accountable. Then to urge or persuade them to avoid those mistakes that they have a natural tendency or inclination to make.
1. Common Mistakes When Holding People Accountable – In General
- Not doing the Accountability piece of caring and growing people. Giving Care, Means and Ability but not Accountability.
- Jumping to conclusions; taking action based on assumptions before finding out ‘why’.
- Not maintaining a balance between positive (praise / reward) and negative (censure /discipline) accountability.
- Playing some but not all strings on the accountability guitar. For example, heaping on the praise for careful but never censuring for careless. Alternatively, focusing on what is wrong rather than catching people doing things right.
- Committing the ‘hard’ mistake which means holding people accountable (censure / discipline) even though failure to meet the standard is due to a lack of means and/or ability or capability.
- Making the ‘soft’ mistake which means sending the person for retraining or giving them additional means when they have, in fact been either careless or deliberately malevolent, and therefore should be held accountable.
2. Common Mistakes When Holding People Negatively Accountable
- Walking past a non adherence to standard.
- Avoiding or delaying dealing with poor performance.
- Taking disciplinary action for misconduct or misbehaviour but not for poor performance.
- Tolerating carelessness and / or deliberate malevolence.
- Imposing sanctions which are too lenient.
- Imposing sanctions which are too harsh or not commensurate with the intent behind the action.
- Not moving beyond censure to discipline, with people being verbally reprimanded over and over for the same issue.
3. Common Mistakes When Holding People Positively Accountable
- Paying people poorly / under paying people.
- Paying for results not contribution.
- Not noticing and appreciating careful.
- Not significantly rewarding the extra mile.
- Rewarding / giving a bonus to those who have done what was required of them (were careful) but have not made an exceptional contribution.
- Failing to differentiate on performance / rating everyone the same.
Getting holding people accountable right is not easy. It takes clarity, focus and practice. When leaders in an organisation do get it right their people agree that deliberate malevolence is punished, carelessness is censured, carefulness is recognised and exceptional contribution is rewarded.
The leadership is seen to be fair and dedicated to realising excellence in the people in their charge.