Many people often mistake accountability for criticism. This is especially true when accountability conversations lack the right framing. As a result, we can find ourselves recoiling from the very idea of being held accountable or holding others accountable.
Rosalynn Carter, a witness of one of the western world’s great leaders Jimmy Carter, noted:
That is the role of a leader in an accountability conversation – investing and directing growth through balancing care and accountability.
Whether it’s addressing performance issues, personal challenges, or transitioning into a leadership role, these conversations can be tough to navigate. However, with the right mindset and practical tips, it’s possible to strike the right balance to foster a positive and productive work relationship.
Care vs Accountability: What’s the difference?
The perfect equilibrium between care and accountability is essential for fostering a thriving and motivated team. When care dominates while accountability takes a backseat, it can inadvertently breed complacency among team members. Infact, teams with a strong balance of care and accountability experience a 35% increase in productivity compared to those where care or accountability is disproportionately emphasised. (2)
Conversely, an excessive focus on accountability at the expense of care can lead to anxiety and disengagement, demotivating the very individuals we seek to inspire. The key to cultivating a harmonious and productive team lies in identifying the sweet spot, where we address accountability concerns while demonstrating genuine care and unwavering support.
It’s important to discern the unique components of care and accountability. Care centres around the way the conversation unfolds, emphasising a supportive and empathetic approach. On the other hand, accountability primarily pertains to the subject matter of the discussion, focusing on addressing performance or behavioural related issues.
The Importance of the Right Mindset
A successful conversation is born from the right mindset. As leaders, it is crucial to remind ourselves that every team member genuinely intends to give their best and desires recognition as a capable performer. Approaching these discussions with a belief in the positive intentions of team members sets a constructive and empowering tone from the outset. Organisations that prioritise a positive and empowering approach to conversations experience a 50% increase in team satisfaction and a 30% decrease in turnover. (3)
Moreover, recognising the inherent positivity of the conversation itself, and its potential to yield valuable insights, lays the foundation for a psychologically safe environment. As leaders, our role is not to pass judgment but rather to comprehend and support each team member in their pursuit of professional growth. By fostering this mindset, we unlock the potential for fruitful interactions that empower individuals to thrive and contribute to the collective success of the team.
Practical Tips for Effective Conversations
- Start with Care: Always begin the conversation with genuine care and concern. Start with general check-ins on how the team member is doing, both personally and professionally. This approach sets a compassionate tone and helps the person feel comfortable before addressing any accountability issues.
- Use a Consistent and Positive Tone: Throughout the conversation, maintain a consistent and positive tone. Avoid negative or judgmental language, as it can create fear and discomfort. Be objective, specific, and use descriptive language when discussing performance matters.
- Seek to Understand: Prioritise seeking to understand the team member’s perspective before offering your own insights. Ask open-ended questions to encourage their involvement and gain insights into their understanding of expectations, self-assessment, plans, and confidence levels.
- Reframe Expectations: Continuously reinforce the importance of specific accountabilities and standards. Use the conversation as an opportunity to reframe and explain why certain aspects of their role are crucial, helping the team member understand the significance of their responsibilities.
- Develop an Inclusive Action Plan: Ensure there is a clear action plan to address accountability issues. Collaborate with the team member to establish specific steps for improvement. Making the plan inclusive allows the individual to offer feedback on how they can be better supported in achieving their goals.
As the conversation draws to a close, the value of genuine care remains paramount. Take a moment to circle back and check in with the team member, understanding how they are feeling after the discussion. This thoughtful gesture reinforces the message that their wellbeing and growth truly matter to you. By ending the conversation on a mindful note, you solidify the foundation of trust and support, creating an environment where individuals feel heard, valued, and motivated to excel.
Finding the right balance between care and accountability is a challenge all leaders face. By embracing a positive mindset and following practical tips, these conversations can be transformed into opportunities for growth and development.
When leaders lead with empathy, understanding, and support, they create an environment where team members feel motivated, engaged, and empowered to excel in their roles. Remember, care and accountability are not mutually exclusive; they are powerful allies that, when combined effectively, lead to a thriving and high-performing team.
This blog was based on our video blog, which was facilitated by our Director John Colbert. If you’re interested in learning more about balancing care with accountability, and how you can become an effective leader, you can watch our video here.
- Goldin, K. (2018) Great leaders take people where they may not want to go, Forbes. Available at: https://www.forbes.com/sites/karagoldin/2018/10/01/great-leaders-take-people-where-they-may-not-want-to-go/?sh=3527ea161421 (Accessed: 24 July 2023).
- 2023 Global Human Capital Trends. Deloitte Insights. Available at: https://www2.deloitte.com/us/en/insights/focus/human-capital-trends.html (Accessed: 24 July 2023).
- It’s time to Reimagine employee retention (2022) Harvard Business Review. Available at: https://hbr.org/2022/07/its-time-to-reimagine-employee-retention (Accessed: 24 July 2023).