Working with people involves accountability. From the most experienced CEO to the newest teenage intern, we make commitments to one another. The best teams, families, and workplaces are mutually accountable to one another.
The question isn’t so much “How do I hold people accountable?” It’s “How do I create a culture of commitment and mutual accountability?”
Accountability begins with clarity. People must understand the specifics of their commitments in order to be accountable. You don’t sign a contract without reading it first (except for the terms and conditions. I mean, we all just click that box, right?)
Accountability begins with clarity.
As Brené Brown says, “Clear is kind.” So great, let’s all just get clarity. Except, if you’ve spent any time in any meeting of any kind or tried negotiating with a toddler, you know that clarity can be elusive.
How to Bring Clarity
When you’re seeking clarity and it seems to be slipping from your grasp, see if any of these are happening:
Trouble Spot: Speed.
Clarity isn’t fast. It takes questions, back and forth, wait time, definitions, and questions. Many, many questions.
Solution: Build in the time.
Yep, it’s gonna take some time. Models, frameworks, and routines will save you some time and establish some clarity. Build in an extra five to ten minutes for clarifying questions. Create open office hours for people to come by with questions. Build in scheduled checkpoints to ensure everyone is still clear or if new information warrants some changes to the tasks, responsibilities, or process.
Trouble spot: Keeping the Options Open
Evading commitment often comes in this package. In the costume of an open-minded look at the future, there is no real understanding of what is required.
Solution: Define the Next Step
I am all for leaving room for what-ifs and changes. Admit that. Especially in this time, a great phrase is “with what we know now…” Everyone knows it’s uncertain. You do yourself no favors pretending otherwise. Define the options and the next action tied to each option. This still leaves room for adjustment, but people are clear about the commit to the next step in the path.
Trouble Spot: Hiding
Some people view questions as a lack of trust or even aggressive. Leaders can become insecure, thinking, “Did I not explain it well?” or “Why don’t they trust me?” Others may dismiss questions and strike back, “How do you not get this?” Or “You should know this.” Clarity is lost because questions aren’t asked.
Solution: Welcome Questions
Encourage a culture of welcoming questions. Rather than asking, “Is that clear?” Ask, “What questions can I answer?” That phrase establishes the speaker is expecting questions. Build in time (see solution one!) to wait for questions. It may seem like an eternity, but wait 10-15 seconds before saying anything. People need time to understand, process, and then think of the question. If you move on too quickly, you’re not really welcoming questions.
Working toward clarity is an ongoing process.
Working toward clarity is an ongoing process. Patrick Lencioni teaches four components of organizational health. Three of the components are “create clarity, over-communicate clarity, and reinforce clarity.”
Real commitment and accountability come from an eyes-wide-open yes. And that path to mutual accountability is paved with clarity.