A colleague told me that accountability is my superpower. After reflecting a bit, I determined there was merit to her statement.

First, I hold myself accountable. When I say I’m going to do something, you can count on me to get it done. Whether it’s attending a meeting or completing a task, if I commit, I will do everything in my power to fulfill the commitment. In Gallup’s StrengthsFinder assessment, responsibility is one of my top five strengths. Gallup’s definition of responsibility equates to accountability.

But I don’t think that’s what my colleague was referring to. She noticed that I hold others accountable.

The first step in holding others responsible is communication. Before others can be held responsible for their actions, they must understand what is expected of them. If you work in my unit and have no clue what you need to do, how can we hold you accountable?

Clarity of purpose and explanation of process is important. That does not mean, however, that we tell you exactly how you must complete your tasks. Yes, there are some things that must be done a certain way. On a factory floor, “X” comes before “Y,” which comes before “Z.” So mixing up the order will create chaos. But in many roles, if there’s a more efficient way to do something, we should celebrate risk-taking when it helps make processes smoother.

Both the outcomes and the deadlines must be shared, and employees need to affirm that they’ve both received the information and understand it. I hear way too many stories of managers who think they’ve told a staff member to do something, but the staff member didn’t hear it.

Conversations are great, but they should be backed up with written confirmation. If I drop by your office and ask when you can get the report completed and you say, “Friday,” then I should return to my office and send you an email to confirm the deadline. If you’re a new employee, I might send you an email on Thursday reminding you of the Friday deadline and ask if you’re still going to meet it. That gives you the opportunity to tell me if there’s a glitch or, hopefully, that you’ll be meeting the deadline.

After we’ve worked together for many months and I know that you’ll always either contact me if something prevents you from delivering on time or will definitely have it to me by the deadline, I won’t send you the prompt email a day before. We’ve both learned that you know what’s expected and will deliver.

What happens with employees who do not meet deadlines? Or maybe they meet deadlines but the quality of their work is shoddy. What do we do then?

Coaching must happen. If we don’t address poor performances, why would the employee ever change their behavior?

Perhaps the employee didn’t understand what was being asked of him. Maybe he thought he did, but once he got started, he had many questions. Intimidated, perhaps, by being the new kid on the team, he didn’t get answers and turned in something of low quality. Sit down with him and walk him through everything, using it as a teaching moment.

Of course, we will expect to see improvement on his next assignment. If we get a better result, terrific, but if not, we must coach some more. At some point, if the employee doesn’t improve after multiple coaching opportunities, he must be let go. The job is not a good fit for his talents.

Accountability is a good trait to have. It benefits you, your employees, and your organization. If this is not something you do well, I encourage you to work on improving holding yourself and others accountable. It may not be your superpower, but it can make you a better manager, leading to better outcomes for your staff and your organization.

Lynne Richardson is the dean of the College of Business at the University of Mary Washington.

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