How To Handle Employees Who Ignore Taking Accountability

Mark HolmesUncategorized

It’s serious when an employee isn’t taking ownership for results. It’s even more serious when they still won’t take ownership after being confronted by their supervisor.

In recent months I’ve talked with numerous client-companies struggling with this issue. Surprisingly, it’s not only the marginal employees who are causing an accountability problem but also good performers.

Some HR managers blame employee disengagement for a low accountability work ethic. Although it’s a tempting scapegoat, disengagement is not the cause.

I think the more likely cause is an obsession with collaboration that’s gets deeply embedded into company values and employee messaging. When leaders place too much emphasis on ‘team’ goals, initiatives or team recognition without an appropriate level of emphasis on individual contribution, challenges such as insufficient accountability, conflict, recurring production problems and lower morale will surface.

One way to prevent this from happening is to make sure that your company’s culture and values strike a good balance between collaboration and individual contribution. If the values or culture aren’t having a negative impact then accountability is probably limited to certain individuals.

When you do have an employee who’s resisting accountability, try these eight tips smart managers use.

  1. Start with assessing if keeping the employee is wise. Ask yourself three questions: Is the employee’s inattention negatively impacting the attitudes or work of others? Is the employee working against your leadership or the culture? Would it be better to cut your losses and replace them, or invest in coaching the individual to appropriate behavior?   
  2. Ask the employee to state your expectations the best they can. Why? Recent Gallup research confirms that only one in two employees clearly know what’s expected of them. Yet, most managers believe that their people are fully informed. Clarify your expectations again and then deal with accountability when you know people fully understand what’s required.
  3. Explore the possibility of any organizational shortcomings. If work processes, a procedure, or the culture have negatively affected the employee’s efforts in some way, resolve these obstacles together.
  4. Determine if the lack of accountability is an ability or attitude problem. Try asking, ‘What’s keeping you from doing the things we need done the way we want them done?’ And, ‘Why didn’t you get the work completed on time?’ Ability issues are commonly improved upon through training, but an attitude issue can be impossible to alter.
  5. Be specific. Make sure you speak about specific instances and not to your judgments. For example, using expressions such as, ‘you don’t care’ or ‘you’re not trustworthy,’ are judgments and will possibly be offensive. Instead state specific issues such as ‘you made multiple errors,’ ‘missed deadlines,’ ‘quality had to be reworked’ or ‘you left it for someone else to clean up.’ Specific issues like those can be corrected.
  6. Explain the impact. Tell the person how their teammates perceive the behavior and how it affects everyone’s performance. This appeals to their personal sense of team commitment and it’s a powerful motivator for most employees.
  7. Stress change, or else. If the negligence is not due to factors such as insufficient training or a lack of resources, then state the adjustments you expect and the consequences if they don’t make those changes.
  8. Set a deadline for seeing new results and follow up. The employee must know that you consider the lack of taking accountability very seriously and it will not be tolerated indefinitely.

Excellent companies consist of high performing teams with people who embody taking ownership and being accountable.

A manager can have a positive influence on employees by handling accountability discussions effectively, and by stressing the importance of workforce collaboration with individual contribution.