Part I: Setting Expectations with Employees

Most managers struggle with holding their people accountable. They feel like they explain the same things over and over, but to no avail. Some people do it, some don’t. Sometimes directives stick for a while and then go awry. It can be maddening to feel like a broken record.

That broken record starts with the leaders themselves. Without systems in place for accountability,  it is hard to ensure that employees will do things consistently.

Accountability starts with clear communication. If you are a manager, you may have dozens of things you would like from your employees. Overloading them with a shopping list will most likely be overwhelming, and will dilute the importance of the key things that matter to you. Repeating yourself constantly will undermine the power of what you say. For that reason, begin by choosing no more than three points in a meeting when you are asking staff to make a change to a process or do something new. For example, you may consider it critical that employees give superb service to customers, or that they follow through on all requests within 48 hours. Once you have your key items in mind, it is time to have the conversation.

Once you know what you want to say clearly, follow three steps to communicate:

Step 1: Explain the purpose and the expectations using the “3 W’s.” When giving directions whether it’s a new hire or a long-time employee, make sure you explain specifically What, When (how often) and Why you want them to complete a certain task. Stay away from vague language like “as soon as possible” and “when you can get to it.”

Step 2: Ensure that they understand with one simple question: While you are using your 3W’s people may check out, or a language barrier may prevent them from understanding. At the end of the conversation make sure you ask one simple question: “What’s the plan?” The answer will tell you whether or not they understand clearly what you are asking. The “plan” question is much more appropriate than saying “Tell me what I just said.” That kind of verbiage can sound demeaning.

Step 3: Put it in writing: People often forget what you ask of them because they have a lot on their minds. If there is something you want to make sure they do consistently, write it down and hang it with a sign in sheet next to a common area. Ask them each to sign it so that you know they have read it.

The next three articles in this series will explain how to make sure that your directions are consistently followed by your staff, but first the onus is on you to make sure that you are clear, and that your message is understood. Accountability isn’t about micro-managing people. On the contrary, it means giving people the clear directives and tools to do their jobs well and rewarding them when you see them do it consistently and well. Most people crave that in their work, and it is the job of all good leaders to ensure that it happens.