Guest post by Linda Galindo (learn more about the author at the end of the article):
Your boss couldn’t be less clear about what she expects you to do. Co-workers miss deadlines and you get blamed. Supervisors treat employees who make honest mistakes like they’ve broken the law, so nobody admits it when they make one. In short, your workplace lacks accountability.
Time to move on? Here are five signs of a business that expects and embraces highly accountable behavior:
1. People take their complaints to the source of the problem.
Griping with co-workers that the boss’s late-night e-mails don’t leave you time to prepare for the next day’s meetings doesn’t alert her to send them earlier. Whispering about a colleague who trips up your schedule because she continually misses deadlines doesn’t help that associate get on track. The fact is, talking to others about someone else’s annoying work habits does nothing to make that person less annoying.
Highly accountable behavior: Point out the problem to the person who is creating it. Tell her how it affects you. Ask her what you can do to help her rectify what’s wrong. Learn why she does what she does, and offer some suggestions for working around whatever roadblocks she identifies.
If you’re the boss: When one employee asks to talk to you about a co-worker, ask that co-worker to sit in on the meeting. If that’s not OK with the person who brought it up, don’t have the conversation. Result: Employees will start talking to each other instead of about each other.
2. A missed deadline never catches anyone off-guard.
Even the most accountable people can’t meet every deadline they agree to. Sometimes we overcommit, and sometimes emergencies bump priority work right off of our tightly packed calendars. And once you get behind, so does everybody who is counting on you to finish your part of the project before they can do theirs.
Highly accountable behavior: Renegotiate deadlines that you know you can’t meet—as soon as you know. Instead of showing up empty-handed on deadline day, making excuses about how busy you’ve been and hoping everyone will understand, give them fair warning. Make new arrangements well in advance of your deadline. That shows respect for your colleagues’ time and workload, and allows them to adjust their own schedules so they don’t waste time waiting for you.
If you’re the boss: The only way to know if the due date you are assigning is reasonable is to ask the employee which tasks are already on her calendar. A schedule stuffed with overlapping top-priority projects is likely to result in more than one missed deadline.
3. The work is “right” the first time.
This is virtually guaranteed if everyone involved in a project is crystal clear about what she is expected to do, what result is acceptable and when the work is due. Clarity prevents misunderstandings that can lead an employee to waste time doing the work the wrong way.
Highly accountable behavior: Ask questions—lots of them, even obvious ones. You are accountable for knowing without a doubt the result you’re reaching for and how you’re expected to achieve it. If you’re not clear, get clear. Be a pest if that’s what it takes to get answers to all of your questions.
If you’re the boss: Be clear. The risk you take: If your staff follows your clear instructions and the project fails anyway, it’s on you. You’ll have nobody to blame. You’ll have to stand up and say: “They did what I asked. I’m accountable.” And still, that’s better than being vague, wasting everyone’s time and pointing fingers when things don’t go as you hoped.
4. Underperformers don’t last long.
Many women feed their nurturing urge to rescue, fix and save a colleague or a boss who’s slacking off or struggling to keep up. But that’s a never-ending cycle, because covering for a co-worker just enables her to continue doing the same thing.
Highly accountable behavior: Face it, don’t fix it. Confront the person—a team member, a supervisor, an office-mate—with the truth: “Here is how your coming in late is affecting me. Here is why your missing deadlines prevents me from meeting mine.” This is a hard conversation to have, especially if the colleague is a friend. Highly accountable people can separate professional expectations from personal empathies.
If you’re the boss: It’s possible to be understanding, compassionate and tolerant without allowing employees to use their personal problems as an excuse for chronic underperformance. Let an underperformer know that her job is at stake. Coach, warn and set a deadline for improvement—or for termination.
5. Superstars are constantly learning.
A business’s most-valuable employee will become even more indispensable if she stays on top of her field, constantly hones her skills and reaches beyond her comfort level to learn and try new things.
Highly accountable behavior: Tell your manager when your work becomes too routine, easy or boring. Request (demand) education as a reward for your good work. Look for and accept opportunities to participate in learning experiences that are engaging and interesting.
If you’re the boss: Stop “rewarding” your top talent by saddling them with the work that their underperforming co-workers can’t get done. That’s an underhanded way of telling someone she is valuable. Instead, offer personal and professional opportunities for growth.
About the Author
Linda Galindo is the author of two books about personal accountability: Where Winners Live (2013) and The 85% Solution (2009). She is president of Galindo Consulting Inc. in Park City, Utah, and has worked for more than 20 years as a consultant, keynote speaker, leadership development facilitator and executive coach.