When you have clear, 90-day deliverables, reported on every quarter, a lot more progress is made – and all the questions about accountability and alignment start to fade away.”

It’s a funny perception people have that leadership is full of people who yell and are tough on their colleagues in order to get things done. In reality, many excellent leaders are more caring and compassionate than callous – and they are very good at holding people accountable.

And then there are those who just aren’t naturally good at it.

Over the years, we’ve found that although people want to hold others accountable, they’ve had some bad experiences – usually because they’re doing it based on opinions and feelings rather than facts and crystal-clear expectations.

This is also true of most of our frustrations with people in life. When there is miscommunication or a lack of aligned expectations, both sides come away disappointed.

The Right Elements

The ultimate management tool is to set people up to self-manage, with only a light touch from leadership.

When a leader puts a lot of energy into making someone accountable – not fun for either side – it’s because there aren’t enough systems for a clear understanding of expectations and current performance.

Here are the right elements you need:

  1. Lead by example. While a cliché, if you don’t feel that you are fully accountable or are not comfortable with being held accountable, odds are you’re going to be soft on the people around you – either because you don’t like tension, or you feel you might violate your own integrity because you’re weak at it. When you hold yourself to a higher standard, it’ll be easier for you to do the same for others.
  2. Clear Goals. Make sure you have three to five crystal-clear SMART goals for the company, for each executive and for every team in your entire organization to deliver every quarter. (You can listen to Episode 71 of The Growth Whisperers to learn more about SMART goals).
  3. Clear performance metrics (KPIs). Make sure that each team and every individual has three to seven operational numbers which show how their part of the business is performing and if they are delivering to expectation.
  4. Conduct. This is about behavioural expectations that are anchored in the core values of the organization. How we show up as human beings,  and how we conduct ourselves in relationships with peers, customer, and direct reports. Call out behavior that is inconsistent with company values and culture.
  5. Transparent reporting. No secrets. Be clear about the metrics of every team and how they are working towards their goals.
  6. Carrots and sticks. Practice positive reinforcement when an individual or a team performs well – whether it’s a thank you note, lunch with the CEO or a financial reward. And acknowledge people who don’t achieve what’s expected. When kids misbehave in school, they go to the principal’s office or stay late to redo a test. In business, this could be a meeting with the executive, a written warning, or performance improvement plan. And, if they consistently can’t do it right, it may mean a demotion or being asked to leave the company. Just make sure it’s not public or brutal – and that they have the tools and resources to fix the problem.

These elements allow people to manage their own accountability because it’s so clear what is expected.

And if you have to intervene too much, the root cause is often not the person. Instead it’s that what is expected of them isn’t clear.

The Challenge

  • How can you enhance the elements of accountability you’re already doing?
  • What new elements can you add?

For more on this topic, listen to Episode 72 of The Growth Whisperers podcast.


Lawrence & Co’s work focuses on sustainable and enhanced growth for you and your business. Our diverse and experienced group of advisors can help your leaders and executive teams stay competitive through the use of various learning tools including workshops, webinars, executive retreats, or one-to-one coaching.

We help high-achieving leaders to have it all – a great business and a rewarding life. Contact us for simple and impactful advice. No BS. No fluff.