MAY 10, 2024

Accountability + Flexibility = Success

You’ve heard me say it before: we have to meet people where they are.

This is especially true for holding people accountable.

I agree that it’s harder than ever to hold people accountable. Employees are more likely than ever to shut down, tune out, or quit.

But, I’m here to say this has more to do with the way accountability is administered by leaders and managers than by the employees.

In other words, we’re not being flexible when we try to hold them accountable.

I’m not talking about being flexible around standards.

To have an effective organization where people can do their best work, people need to be held accountable when work is not up to agreed-upon standards, or when someone’s actions impede the team’s progress.

I’m talking about flexibility in meeting the person where they are.

I hear a lot of talk about accountability, but I don’t see organizations doing it well, in my humble opinion. Accountability starts with being super clear on roles, responsibilities, and expectations; having consistent communication; and checking in to understand how feedback was received and understood.

Here’s an example.

We had a young employee at OAIB who had not been performing. We discussed the sub-par work many times. I provided clear deadlines. I used carrots and sticks. Her behavior did not change.

After many conversations, she confided in me that she had been struggling with anxiety and stress outside of work that was impacting her performance at work.

Ahh, now I understand!

With this information, I could get clear on what I wanted and what I needed to do.

In a supportive way, I said, “Thank you for telling me. I want to support you, but you’re responsible for defining what support looks like.”

I was very clear with what I expected of her as we discussed what support looks like to her.

She was still held to deadlines but would be responsible for negotiating with me what those deadlines would be, so we could both get our needs met.

At the end of our conversation, I told her that just because you’ve shared this with me, does not mean that you get a pass for being late or slow to deliver, because we won’t use this as an excuse. I still have high expectations, but can of course be flexible in how you meet those expectations.

I gave her permission to say to me, I can get this to you on such-and-such a date, but have to move this other thing to another date. At the same time, I also need to know what you’re working on, not working on, and when I can expect to have those things.

I told her that some things are going to be non-negotiable, but I am willing to provide additional support to get them done.

Flexible accountability…I’m so clear about it.

Her response was, thank you. I don’t want to use this as an excuse. I feel so much better sharing this with you. I appreciate your help.

I believe she was encouraged by a new level of clarity. She needed a partner.

Will there be letdowns, days where she’s not 100%? Absolutely.

Is my expectation going to change that she still is responsible for negotiating with me? Absolutely not.


Because we’re in a partnership.

If you have an accountability problem in your organization, we can help.