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How to Hold Employees Accountable While Empowering Them

Friday, January 5, 2024

I have been asked, “How do you hold someone accountable to a standard so they still feel capable, empowered, and motivated?”

People do things for two reasons: because they want to (motivation) and because they can (ability). To hold people accountable to the standards, target both their motivation and ability— but first, lay out exactly what you want them to do.

Clarify Vital Behaviors

Clarify and emphasize the behaviors that will bring about the desired outcomes of care. Let employees know what they need to do and when they need to do it. Clarity is the precursor of change.
Also, ensure the standards of behavior will lead to the results you want. Ask yourself, “Have I seen others do this behavior, and have they achieved the results? Is there data to suggest this behavior will generate the results we want?”

Address Ability First

It’s ineffective to try to motivate people to do things they are unable to do. When you enable people first, motivation often follows.

Ask yourself these three questions to determine people’s ability:


1. Do people lack the knowledge or skills to perform the desired behaviors? If the answer is “yes,” it is important to invest in their development. If their lack of skill is keeping you from results, then their lack of skill is your problem. Look for ways to model the behavior, hold short training sessions, or give them the opportunity to evaluate their own performance.

2. Are others keeping them from being able to perform the desired behavior? If so, assign mentors, coaches, or peers to provide examples, training, and feedback.

3. Is the environment preventing people from performing the desired behavior? In many cases, our ability is affected by our environment. Consider arranging spaces by moving things closer or farther away. Adjust the flow of data, provide the right tools or technologies, streamline any processes, and implement cues or reminders in key moments and key places. The goal should be to create an environment where it’s easier to meet the standard of behavior.


Address Motivation Second

With strategies in place to improve ability, consider three ways to improve motivation.

1, Connect to moral values. When people see that the desired behavior relates to their values, it changes how they feel, which influences how they act. In reality, we can’t motivate others. We can, however, foster motivation by helping people see the connections between what’s important to them and the behaviors we need them to carry out. A key strategy for helping others experience the impacts of a behavior is to take them on a field trip to see the behavior in action or to tell them stories that create a vicarious experience. In other words, demonstrate how the behaviors relate to their values. Highlight the human, moral, or ethical consequences of the behaviors in question.

2. Leverage social influence. Who you’re with is how you act. Look for ways to lean on those with social influence. You can’t lead alone. Partnering with employees who already have influence will increase your efforts to bring about the desired behaviors. Get them on board first, then enlist them in your cause.

3. Use rewards sparingly. Often, when striving to change behavior, leaders lean too heavily on rewards, prizes, promotions, or raises. These efforts rarely produce lasting behavior change. The key is to use this approach sparingly and only after you have worked to connect to moral values and leveraged social influences. It’s also important to choose rewards that are rewarding. Are the chosen rewards something people value? Will they truly incentivize the behavior? Finally, connect rewards to the behaviors and not the results. Not doing so may lead to unwanted consequences.

Make sure the standards are clear, specific, and lead to your desired outcomes, and think ability first and motivation second. True leadership is about empowering others to become leaders themselves. Holding others accountable is that kind of empowerment.

About the Author

A master trainer and the director of professional services at Crucial Learning, Scott Robley has more than 20 years of experience in education, training, and speaking, bringing a wealth of insight coupled with high energy to every engagement.

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