Holding People Accountable

By Tanner Hubbard

We have all seen an employee in the workplace that bends or breaks the rules day in and day out, simply because leadership is unwilling (or in some cases, unable) to hold that person accountable. Why do you think this happens so often in almost every organization in the world? There are likely more reasons than we can count, but I want to talk about the one that is most prevalent, which is unclear expectations.

If we are going to “hold people accountable” then we must first define what that means, otherwise it isn’t accountability, it is just what I like to call managing chaos. We often wait until someone has done something they can be written-up for, or fired over, before we even have a conversation about their attitude, behavior, etc. We end up hoping the “difficult” employee quits or just kick ourselves for hiring the wrong person (again).

In order to hold your people to high standards, you must first establish what those high standards are. Most organizations fail to publish what behaviors they expect out of their employees, and thus all that can be measured are things like attendance, errors, policy violations, etc. The values-based behavioral expectations for your organization should be just as clear and concise as your “work results.” Everyone should be held to the same values behaviors, regardless of job title or tenure. It is crucial for the health of your organization that both the values and work results are clearly defined, and that everyone is living by both of those metrics. 

Below is the values / results chart, and it is the centerpiece of everything we do at VIP2

When the x-axis (work results) and the y-axis (values behaviors) are clearly established and communicated throughout the organization, NOW you can hold people to these defined expectations. Does this make the action of accountability any easier? I don’t think so. There is a reason we devote an entire segment of our VIP2 Leadership training to “having difficult conversations.” That being said, while I don’t think it is always easy, it should always be this simple. Clearly defined “output” and clearly defined “behavior” allows for clear accountability.

Prior to joining VIP2, all my managerial experience came from small and / or family owned companies, so I’m well aware of the unspoken expectations that some companies have for their people. For example, believing that everyone will think or act like the owner, CEO, other leaders, etc. It is “assumed” that an employee will either get on board with the informal culture or get out. Some people may choose to “fit in” and others may eventually leave (or get fired), but what about the person who makes you money but doesn’t behave the right way? That employee may be a top producer at a small company, but should we look the other way if their behavior is unacceptable? What about an employee who is “nice” and fits into the family environment, but they don’t get a lot done? Should we ignore the fact that the employee is not accomplishing tasks just because they are pleasant to work with? The answer to both questions is ‘no.’ In order for your organization to thrive, you must hold people accountable to both high work results and values behaviors.   

Now I know what you may be thinking because we’ve heard it many times: “Well, if we hire the right people, then I shouldn’t have to do any of this accountability stuff.” While this is a nice sentiment, it rarely (if ever) works. Hiring is key, no doubt about it. We have entire workshops centered around how to hire and onboard effectively, but that is only one piece of the puzzle. No one is perfect and some days, even the best of employees will need guidance and correction.

A great mantra to have as a leader is “get awkward early.” When someone’s behavior or work results are not in the star quadrant (on our chart), have a conversation with them immediately. You’ll find that the earlier you have these conversations the less awkward they will actually be, as opposed to waiting until there is a major problem. When done correctly, “living” by the values / results chart can help your best people thrive and will cause everyone in the organization to either rise to meet high standards or find a different place to work.