How to Have Accountability Conversations With Your Team Without Compromising Care

One of the dilemmas we face often as leaders is how to have conversations around accountability, without compromising the care we have for our people.

Many leaders and managers put a lot of work into building a really positive and supportive environment for their people and then naturally feel torn when the time comes to address accountability and performance issues. 

So, how do we actually have conversations that balance care with accountability? 

In this article we’ll give five tips to enable you to strike a balance between care and accountability so that you’re well equipped to have more difficult conversations with your team. 

Tip 1: Trust Your Team’s Intention to Perform 

The reality is nobody goes into work actively wanting to do a bad job or to feel disengaged. In contrast, most people aspire to be someone who’s considered a high performer. Remember this going into any accountability conversation. Instead of worrying about potential awkwardness, focus on the fact that you are actually helping someone perform by holding them accountable. 

Tip 2: Care Comes First

We need to show how much we care before diving deep into the accountability element of the conversation, because it creates a sense of psychological safety for the employee. It puts people in a zone where they feel cared for and supported, which means they’re actually able to listen and know your intent is positive.  Otherwise you run the risk of creating an experience where they feel attacked—in this instance their first instinct will be to respond defensively to feedback, as opposed to taking it on board. 

Tip 3: Maintain a Consistent Tone

When moving into the accountability element of the conversation, maintain a consistent tone, regardless of what you are speaking about. 

If you allow your tone to change into something harsh, abrupt or negative, you also run the risk of creating an environment where your team member feels attacked or trapped, and the conversation probably won’t have the outcome you are hoping for. 

Tip 4: Seek to Understand First

Always seek to understand first by asking open ended questions, and listening to learn as opposed to simply listening to respond. 

Through your questions, try and get a gauge of what they think is expected of them, their own assessment of where they currently sit in relation to those expectations, and any personal or professional challenges they might be experiencing.

This is also an opportunity to try and understand their plan—they might already be aware of the fact that they aren’t performing and have a plan in place. So instead of just telling them what to do, talk through the changes that need to be made together. 

Tip 5: Use Descriptive Language Instead of Judgemental Language 

The key difference between descriptive and judgemental language is that descriptive language relies on talking through facts and statistics. 

For example, if someone in your sales team isn’t hitting their targets, you could use descriptive language to say: “you achieved 60% of your monthly target last month”. In contrast, using judgemental language would be: “your sales performance last month was unacceptable” or “your performance is not up to scratch.”

Judgemental language will do little to help your employee; it is filled with bias and too ambiguous to actually be constructive. 

Tip 6: Continue to Reframe Expectations

We want to continually reframe the persons expectations. In the conversation look for opportunities to reframe and reexplain why certain aspects of their accountability are important. Things that the person needs to achieve and standards that they need to work towards. Constantly explain why this is an important part of their role. 

Tip 7: Create an Inclusive Action Plan 

Never walk away from an accountability conversation without a clear plan of action about what to do next. 

Ensuring there is a plan in place that you are both onboard with will create a sense of commitment from your team member to do something differently, and will also make them feel supported. 

This allows you to finish with a mindful close and gives you an opportunity to follow up with them in coming weeks to check on how thing are progressing. 

We dive into this topic in more detail in this 8-minute video. If holding your team accountable and achieving business outcomes is high on your list of priorities this year, make sure you give this a watch:


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