It’s an old rule of life that we teach people how to treat us. Yet often we women, highly attuned to building relationships but reticent to say anything to ruffle them, can struggle when it comes to managing accountability and calling people on broken promises – our friends most of all. It just feels like less stress to say nothing; even to just do it ourselves.
At least in the short term.
But here’s the deal: when you decide not to call someone on their broken promise and ill-managed commitment, you’re, albeit inadvertently, being part of the problem. The one thing you can count on is to expect more of it. More broken promises. More turning up late. More cut corners. More well worn excuses. More missed deadlines. And more of the stress, frustration and resentment you’d much rather avoid.
If you’ve ever found yourself frustrated at someone who’s perpetually slack, or late, or unreliable then you’ll relate to some of the comments above. Many people value their promises cheaply or simply manage their commitments poorly. Others have a hard time holding people to account. It’s easier to just let it go and hope they’ll be more reliable next time.
The problem is, they rarely are.
Turning the tide begins with renewing your commitment to manage every area of your life with integrity. When it comes to your commitments, it’s about honoring your word and then refusing to tolerate any less from others. Having coached many people working in cultures with poor accountability, failing to hold people to account can set off a ripple effect that is far-reaching and costly. It doesn’t just undermine your own integrity, reputation and influence, it impacts all those around you.
If you happen to be working in an organization where promises are treated cheaply, accountability low and punctuality near non-existent, either choose to be the change you want to see in those around or, if that feels totally futile, choose to make an exit plan! Either way, own your choice to stay or go and don’t complain about its trade-offs.
If you are overdue a conversation about accountability, here are 7 keys to help you on your way.
1. Decide what you want upfront
I’ve lost count of times executives have expressed frustration with what was delivered to them only to find that they were never really sure what they wanted to begin with. So before you enter into a commitment, or even consider holding someone accountable, be sure you are really clear in your own mind about what it is you want and how you would define success. How can others know what you want if you don’t?!
2. Be specific in clarifying expectations
Sometimes you can clear up a simple misunderstanding at the outset just by clarifying what it was you expected in the first place. To ensure against the same thing happening again, always make sure people are clear about both what you expect to be done and when you expect it to be done. Ambiguity is a recipe for frustration and unmet expectation.
Simply asking, “Do you understand?” is not enough. Get them to paraphrase, summarize, or reflect back their understanding so you are sure you are on the same page.
3. Ask for what you do want, rather than what you don’t
Many peoplehave a tendency to complain about the actions and behaviors they don’t like, when in reality, they haven’t explained the actions and behaviors they want to see.
4. Seek for an explanation before making an accusation
if someone has let you down, it’s always important to give someone the benefit of the doubt to begin with. Maybe they’ve just been really busy and thought other priorities were more important. Maybe they needed more guidance. Maybe something came up out of the blue and they just forgot to tell you. Hear them out and give them a chance to explain themselves.
5. Share the impact of them not keeping their word
People aren’t always conscious of how their behaviour impacts other people , or even themselves. So you need to be straight with them about how their failure to manage their commitments has impacted you, others and them! Maybe you had to work back late to finish what they didn’t. Maybe it affected your entire team and you had to manage the fallout. Maybe you’re just disappointed with them. Maybe you’ll have to think twice before relying on them again. Maybe others will. This isn’t about making them feel bad; it’s just being upfront about the impact so you can make things better in the future.
6. Reset expectations
Likewise, if someone has let you down, it’s important to renegotiate exactly what it is you want, when you want it and what they are able to deliver. By having the courage to have the conversation, rather than tiptoeing around, you set the stage for greater accountability and less disappointment.
If you refuse to accept anything but the best, you very often get it. So, as uncomfortable as you may feel, just know that when you do what you know is right and hold people accountable to their word, albeit uncomfortable, everyone—including them— ultimately comes out better off. (Just don’t expect a thank-you card.)
7. Reward the positive and coach the negative
If you operate out of the mindset that keeping one’s promises shouldn’t be rewarded because it should just be done, you are missing an opportunity to reinforce good behavior. Publicly thank and acknowledge those who consistently manage their commitments with integrity, show punctuality and meet or exceed expectations. Sure, they should just do that anyway, but you will be highlighting for those who don’t that this is what you want to see more of. And for those who aren’t so good in how they manage promises and juggle commitments, take the time to coach them to competency. Everyone wants to do a good job – they just may need some more support and skill in doing it.
Whatever you do, don’t shy away from having the tough conversations. As I wrote in my new book Brave, like so many of the things you know are good for you to do, holding people accountable requires exiting your comfort zone and engaging in the uncomfortable work of a tough conversation. Emotions can run high and sensitivities deep. It’s why it takes an ounce or three of courage. Sometimes more.