Articles

Guidelines For Holding People Appropriately Accountable

December 06, 2020 - By Wendy Lambourne, Director, MA Industrial and Organisation Psychology, Registered Psychologist with SA Medical & Dental Council

The most critical variable in all issues relating to holding people accountable is conscience. If leaders are uncomfortable, either on the discipline or reward side of accountability, it is probably because they have doubts about whether what they want to do is really fair. When in doubt they should ask why, they should interrogate what the voice in their head is telling them, before they act.

Counselling leaders to think before they act and listen to their conscience is sage advice when it comes to any one of the four leadership actions associated with holding people accountable – discipline, censure, praise, reward. In addition though leaders have found the seven guidelines below useful when tackling the accountability piece of caring for and growing their people.

1. Hold people accountable for what they have control over – their contribution not the result.
Hold people accountable for their unique contribution in the context of the results to be achieved; for what they have actually delivered which is of added value to somebody else. Hold people accountable for what they ‘give’ rather than what they ‘get’.

2. Hold people accountable against a standard for their intent.
Hold people accountable for their deliberate malevolence, carelessness, carefulness and for going the ‘extra mile’. In order to do so leaders need to ensure the following:

    • that they deal with carelessness when it occurs
    • that they genuinely show appreciation for peoples’ effort and contribution.
    • That the way that people are remunerated positively acknowledges the contribution made. That those who contribute the most are the most highly rewarded.

3. That people are held accountable for their own actions not for anyone else’s.
People should be held accountable for what they deliver or do. This means that managers are not accountable for what is achieved by those who report to them but for what they achieve.

It also means that there is no such thing as ‘they made me do it’ (Adam is not off the hook for eating the forbidden fruit just because Eve told him to) or ‘they should have stopped me’ ( ‘I cheated but its not my fault – you didn’t put a monitor in the room to watch me’).

4. Those in leadership positions should be held primarily accountable for the calibre of their people.
Leaders should be held accountable mainly for the care and growth of their direct reports, because that is their job. They should be rewarded not for making themselves successful, or even making the business successful, but for making their people successful.

5. When there is a deviation from standard find out ‘why.’
People should be held accountable not for what they do but ‘why’ they do it. There is only ever three reasons ‘why’ there is a deviation from a standard. There is a Means ‘why’ (lack of tools, resources, time, authority and information), an Ability ‘why’ (in terms of know-how or know-why) or an Accountability ‘why’ (a matter of the will).

Only once people have the means and ability can they be held accountable. If they have the means and ability, they must be held accountable.

6. Replace control with accountability.
In practical terms replacing control with accountability means the following:

    • When there is a deviation from standard the right leadership action is not to impose a control on everyone but to find out who is responsible and hold them appropriately accountable.
    • When authority is handed over, when control is suspended, so too is accountability. With the freedom to act comes consequence, both positive and negative, for one’s actions.

7. Don’t display prejudice or favouritism.
When holding people accountable leaders need to be cognisant of the fact that each situation is unique. They need to deal with the specific facts in front of them. They need to take each case on its merits, without bias or preconception.

There is no recipe for holding people accountable but when leaders operate within the above guidelines, they exponentially increase their appropriateness when they do so.

Wendy Lambourne
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