Why is it that ‘accountability’ always has this negative connotation? It seems to always come with the subtext: You better do it right, or else…! The problem with that is it misses the most valuable part of accountability, which is follow-up and follow-through. It’s not about you better get this done or I’m going to HOLD YOU ACCOUNTABLE!” (cue ominous music and read: fail and you’re fired). It’s more about how do I support you, and help you follow through with getting this accomplished? That’s a much more positive angle, and ultimately it’s going to make way more of a difference.
Too often in teams, we have meetings to discuss meetings to discuss meetings, but we leave those meetings unsure if we ever reached a final decision. Is everyone clear on what part is their responsibility, and what decision they’re responsible to make? It is mind-boggling how many meetings end with some people thinking a decision was made but unable to truly articulate it; and other people wondering what the hell just happened. In order to hold people accountable in a positive way, you want a way to follow up decisions, to-dos and actions. Be clear on what kind of follow through you want. Drill down into each step that needs to be taken, and by whom, and everyone’s expectations around each step. This isn’t so you can say or else. This is so that when we follow up in a week or two, it’s clear what’s being followed up on and the expectations around what is happening. It is amazing how often people think they do this, but unless it is written down, clarified and agreed to – it’s not. Too many meetings end with people walking away with a sense of what happened but not a crystal clear understanding. No wonder no one wants to be held accountable, most people aren’t clear on what they are being held accountable to and don’t think to ask.
It’s as simple as this: after a discussion or meeting, write down the decisions that were made and the expectations of those decisions. Then next meeting, check that sheet and ask, ‘How’s it going? Did you accomplish the goal? If not, what do you need? How will we get it done?’ The beautiful part is that if you create a system that has real genuine follow up and follow through, you’ll find you need to do it less and less and less. The check in will become a habit – and that’s when it reaches a powerful dynamic of positive communication and accountability.