Thoughts on managing people and driving accountability

In the last 10-12 years of my work, I have been managed by managers and I have managed people. I have seen others manage people. I want to share my observations on what may be effective or not effective when it comes to managing people.

Ultimately, what do we want from employees? We want them to deliver on their deliverables. If we agree that this is the desired outcome, then we have a clear way to manage people. Make them accountable. Now, you can do it in a good way or do it a bad way. If accountability is not driven in a good way, then it doesn’t end well and leaves people with a bad taste. I want to share some of my thoughts on how to do it well and common mistakes that should be avoided.

What you can do as a manager

  • Drive home the point when a new person joins – The best time to give clarity to people when they join. Help them understand that you want people to take ownership of their work and they will be held accountable for it. Set them on the right path.
  • Provide support/feedback to employees – You must provide right kind of guidance so that they can be accountable. First, have an agreement on the deliverables and then do periodic checkins to see how things are going on. Clearly tell them what accountability means and how you will measure it. Give them early feedback on what they did well and what needs improvement. There should be no surprises. You also can’t have unrealistic expectations. If the person doesn’t have time to deliver on what he or she needs do, then the person won’t be able to deliver.
  • Take corrective measures immediately when they are needed – You must periodically measure accountability and provide early feedback. Delaying corrective actions sets the wrong tone. It tells people that they can get away with things (not just to the person who is not accountable but even others in the team as they are all watching you). You will also be guilty of not informing people sooner so that they can take corrective actions. No one is perfect and you must make every effort to take corrective actions (after all, you hired the person).
  • Understand what is happening when people are not being accountable – Rarely people want to be unaccountable without any reason. There are lot of drivers of accountability and you have to see what drivers matter to the person being observed and what can be done to address the concerns. Ex – people may be in wrong role, may not be happy with the compensation, may be the project is not fitting in the career plans. First step should be to see if something can be done and if something can’t be done (salary can’t be met or kind of project the person desires is not available), then accept that there is a mismatch. In case of a mismatch, help the person find a better match within company or elsewhere. There is no point in getting upset or looking down on someone. Recognise the mismatch, and extend help. This part is hard but try to do your best.
  • Don’t implement wrong measures of accountability – This one is important. Company policies must be inline with how company measures accountability. Some examples
    • Implementing rules like employees must come by 10:00 am to office. Why? Because we want people to work and deliver. But, you just decided that what you want is accountability. As long as people are delivering, it shouldn’t matter where people are working from. If the situation is that you feel people won’t deliver until and unless they are present in office, then it says more about company’s inability to drive accountability into employees more than anything else. In other words, fix the right problems.
    • Defining fixed office hours like 10-7 and expect people to be available during this time. If you do so, you also are implying that people should do not work outside the office hours. This policy again sets the wrong tone as fixed office hours is not a measure of accoutability.

What you can do as an employee

I also want to share some thoughts on what you can do to make sure things go smooth for you with your manager.

  • Work with your manager to clearly set the deliverables – You can then drive all future discussions on accountability easily and in a more effective matter.
  • Ask your manager, how he/she will measure your work.
  • When things are not working well, talk – This is often the hardest part. You need to communicate that things are not working well and why. If you don’t, you are giving a wrong picture to your manager. Not all managers will be open minded enough to look behind the scenes and try to get to the root cause. They will simply interpret bad results as lack of accountability. Help them to see things your way and figure a way out. If things do not change after talking to manager, then there is a mismatch. Find a better match.