I created a poll and asked: “Is today’s management afraid to hold team members accountable to performance standards?” The resounding answer was YES. This is sad because it has a negative impact on our businesses and the community at large.
Accountability is required to uphold standards.
If you’re not willing to hold yourself and your team members to a standard, then your business isn’t sustainable. You’re treading water.
Delayed feedback allows problems to snowball. Consider a team member with mediocre work thus making it more difficult for peers, vendors, and clients. Whether you address it or not, others still see it.
- Peers see the standard is lower and adjust their work or start looking elsewhere.
- Vendors will take notice and reduce their availability or charge more.
- Clients will complain until there’s a resolution. And worse micromanage the rest of the relationship or look to end the contract.
All three parties are prone to “quietly quit”. They won’t complain. Instead, they’ll disengage. They’ll exit at the first opportunity. They’ll refer people away from your company because of a lack of trust.
Your team is the biggest investment and expense of your business. Whether you are starting out a team of 2 or have a team of 20, connecting with each team member under your direct charge is vital to the health of your business.
One of the biggest pushbacks I get from leaders is the lack of time. I get it. My question is when do you want to put in the time? Do you want to do it incrementally, similar to preventative healthcare? Or do you want to put it off til it requires job removal, similar to surgery, and then you’re out time and money for an extended period of time? Invest in the health of your culture!
Create the Standard
Your team wants to be held to a standard. They want to do great work and be recognized for it. It fuels their purpose within your team and creates personal fulfillment.
First, what is your business about? Have you defined a clear vision, mission, and values? These set the foundation for your decisions and the culture. They tell your team the big goal, how you’re going to build it, and the daily practices necessary to achieve it.
Next, define the standards for each area of your business. These may include attendance, attire, behavior, communication, expenses, performance, quality of services, time off, etc.
Then under each area address: What’s allowed? What’s not allowed? What does excellence look like? What does mediocre/unacceptable look like?
The more clear you are in defining the standards the easier it is for team members to uphold them. Gray areas create confusion and encourage exploitation by those trying to push boundaries. (Trust me, you have someone who will push.)
Finally, outline the consequences when the standards aren’t upheld. These will be different per area, but the goal is to encourage excellence and discourage mediocrity. I understand it can be hard to define these if you’ve never done it. But, you’re responsible for protecting the business inclusive of team members, clients, vendors, and brand integrity.
Create the Accountability
Create accountability early and often. This makes it easier for team members to uphold the standard. And reduces the number of hard conversations everyone wants to avoid.
First, set clear expectations during the recruiting process. This includes the job description, interview, and onboarding.
Next, model the standard. When team members start they’re observing everyone, including you, to see what’s acceptable. Your consistency builds trust with them. If you’re not upholding the standard, they won’t take it seriously. (If you have a substance abuse policy for employees, a team happy hour sends mixed messages.)
When you see an opportunity to “coach up” a team member, do it in the moment. Timely and relevant feedback is key to growth and ensuring lessons stick. (You did a good job with X! Have you considered Y? Y will help you achieve Z.)
Then host monthly 1:1 with each team member to discuss what they’re doing well and what needs improvement. This applies to performance and behavior. Monthly check-ins encourage business and team alignment. It also gives the opportunity to redirect efforts so the team member continues on a path of success.
Healthy and constructive 1:1 are a two-way conversation and not a monologue. The goal is to understand each other and work toward the same goal of supporting the business vision.
- Employees: I noticed you did X. Tell me more about the situation and why you made that choice. Our expectation is Y, what will you do to meet Y? What do you need from me to meet Y? If you don’t meet Y, then Z will happen.
- Contractors: I want to check in on our work together. We discussed you completing X. What is the status of X? I had the expectation of Y, but see Z. Will you help me understand the gap between Y and Z?
Finally, document your discussions. This is critical because it records the journey of the team member and helps identify patterns. Are they consistently improving? Or is there a consistent struggle (3 months in a row) and they need extra training? Documentation supports annual reviews, compensation changes, and role changes.
Create a Relationship
If you don’t care about the success of your team, they won’t care about the success of your business.
Caring about the success of your team requires getting to know each person. What are their interests and goals? What motivates them? What skills do they want to develop? Having rapport with your team allows you to have better conversations to support their growth.
Being in a leadership position requires boundaries. You can care about your team without being friends. The problem with being friends is boundaries start to blur. Then accountability lessens because you’re more worried about feelings. And from the outside, it may appear you have favorites among the team. This sets everyone up for failure.
A respected leader is caring and consistent. Team members know the standard applies to everyone regardless of their role. They trust you have their best interests at heart when you “coach up” and when you have to redirect their efforts. If you’re wavering because you’re overly concerned about feelings and popularity vs doing what’s right, then people will sense your weakness and exploit it. I hate to say it, but it’s the truth as we see it play out in society.
Great leaders have a strong sense of self and take ownership. When you’re leading with excellence and integrity, then gossip and naysayers won’t hold weight. I’m cheering for you and your team!!