As a manager, it’s not your job to hold people accountable.

Yep, that’s right. It’s not. It IS your job to make sure your team knows where they stand, and to find a balance between skill, hill, and will.

*pause for dramatic effect*

Yes, you read that correctly. As a manager, it’s NOT YOUR JOB to hold people accountable

Some of you might be wondering, “well, ok, fine. But then what is my job?”

Good question. As a manager, it’s your job to make sure people know where they stand. And that is very, very different from holding them accountable. 

First, process

The major point we’re trying to make is that as a manager, you need a process. You and your team should always be able to know where they stand at any given time. No one, including you, should ever be surprised, disappointed, or confused. If they are, the process isn’t working. If someone misses the mark, or doesn’t get a project done on time, you should all know about it well in advance, and why.

For example, imagine you're a manager at a grocery store or retail shop. If a team member can’t show up on time for any reason, on any day, they should call you and tell you so (process). If they don’t, they shouldn’t be working for you.

Then, Skill, Will, or Hill

Once you have that process in place, and it’s working, then it comes down to three things: skill, will, or hill. All performance problems usually boil down to one of them. People either don’t have the skills to deliver, the will to deliver, or it’s a hill that was too hard for them to climb. Sometimes it can also be a communication issue, but we’ve covered that before.

So, let’s say for instance you have a new team member. Bob is his name. And Bob has a job to do, making widgets. Before you can assess if Bob has any performance issues (hopefully not), you have to have a process so both he and you can know where he stands. That can look like a variety of things. Maybe it’s a daily stand-up meeting, or a project management platform where you track progress. It’s probably a combination of both, but no matter what, it’s a place where Bob, you, and the rest of your team can come together to discuss what’s getting done and why.

Initially, Bob might be a bit too ambitious. He’s raring to go, with plenty of will for making widgets, but he doesn’t yet have the skills to climb the hill he’s set for himself. As his manager, you help him to prioritize better or tell him it’s ok to take on less. You provide him with more training so he can increase his knowledge. Eventually, his skills increase, and the hill becomes easier.

Maybe six months down the road you notice Bob is just checked out. He no longer has much will for making widgets. as his manager, how can you engage him and help him be excited about meeting his goals? Maybe you provide an incentive, or just have a conversation about what’s going on.

So, what’s my job again?

As a manager, it’s your job to find the balance between skill, will, and hill for your teammates. Through your accountability process, you should be able to easily assess where people’s skills are, if they are engaged with their work, and if they are taking on an appropriate amount of tasks. If there are issues in one or more of those areas, it’s your job to address it.

Here’s another area where being kind, not nice, as a manager is key. Holding people accountable and assessing where they are might feel heavy. But if you’re not providing effective feedback and clearly communicating with people about where they stand, you’re not being kind to your team. You’re just being nice. Unfortunately, being nice often breeds a culture of fear and uncertainty, and erodes psychological safety in your team.

If however, you’re transparent about where your team members are succeeding, where they could maybe step it up, what they’re delivering well, and what they’re not, you’ll have a team of people confident about where they stand, what they’re best at, and what they could improve upon. And you can do all that while still being kind. 

All of this takes time. Even here at Lead Belay, where we’re experienced at this, it took a while for us to iron out our accountability process. But as it evolved, and as we fell into our own particular cadence and rhythm, it’s been a huge part of our success.

Want to know more about how you can create an accountability process for success with your team?

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