Looking for employee accountability? Keep it ‘SIMPLE’


The notion of holding employees accountable for what they say to co-workers and how well they perform their jobs within a deadline-driven company can prove daunting to managers, a consultant said recently.

Start with understanding what accountability actually should entail and jettison the perception it’s a teeth-grinding necessity, said Julie Kowalski, founder and president of the Milwaukie-based Spizzerinctum Group LLC. Kowalski spoke recently at an Institute for Supply Management Greater Grand Rapids Affiliate-sponsored forum held at Grand Valley State University’s DeVos Center. Spizzerinctum, Kowalski said, means the will to succeed combined with energy, enthusiasm and success.

Part of accountability’s essential elements start with adults who take responsibility for their words and actions, said Kowalski, who added she knows that’s not always the case, which is why having a Plan B is vital.

“Accountability is saying what you mean, meaning what you say and doing what you said you would do,” she said. “It’s a personal willingness to renew attitudes and behaviors to achieve desires.”

That’s fine, but what about workers who are chronically late with completing their assigned projects? And how is it possible to hold people accountable if they don’t report to you?

Kowalski said the tried-and-true approach of using of fear and punishment doesn’t produce lasting change or desired results.

“Peer pressure and distaste of letting down a colleague motivates people more than fear of punishment,” said Kowalski.

Kowalski said rebooting the corporate culture may be necessary, and that involves knowing the difference between constructive versus destructive conflict.

Destructive conflict is when people argue without listening to a co-worker’s ideas. They just want to “win” the argument.

Constructive conflict has decidedly different outcomes that are achieved when companies can specify how co-workers will engage one another in conversation. They don’t need to necessarily get their way, but do need to be assured their opinions were heard.

“None of us need to get our way 100 percent of the time,” said Kowalski. “We do need to know someone listened to us.”

She said a good rule to follow is to keep the acronym SIMPLE in mind: set expectations; invite commitment; measure progress; provide feedback; link conversations to consequences; and evaluate effectiveness.

“Don’t assume people know what you want them to do, when you want it done by and at what level,” said Kowalski. “Don’t ask, ‘Do you have any questions?’ or ‘Do you understand?’ Ask specific questions and conduct mid-point check-ins,” meaning ask for a rough draft or outline before the approaching deadline to assure progress is being made.

Other motivating tips include set as many objective measures as possible, encourage employees to share what they would do differently in the future on a project or procedure and have them rate themselves on a scale of “exceeded,” “met,” or “did not meet expectations,” and ask them to define why they gave themselves their respective rating.

And avoid what Kowalski terms “meaningless praise.”

“When you say I did a good job, I have no way of knowing what I did to repeat it again,” said Kowalski. “Constructive feedback holds people accountable.

“What if the boss said he expects you to do a good job on this proposal?” said Kowalski. “He specifically needs to say what he wants included and not included.”

When workers do not meet expectations that were communicated before the start of a project, Kowalski recommends reviewing with them the commitment they made to the project beforehand and hashing out why those expectations were not met.

Asking three questions and rooting out the answers can determine constructive insights: Did they know what needed to be done? Did the supervisor give them the tools to be successful, such as understand how to complete a project? Finally, did they know what the consequences and rewards would be?

“I need to be able to say to an employee, ‘You said you were committed to the process,’” said Kowalski. “That is why it’s important to hold people accountable: It becomes their issue, not mine.”

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