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The right way to hold people accountable

It was a long time ago. At that time, I was not too fond of trekking. Yet, I was there, exhausted, but happy. I was at the top of the mountain. I was with my friend who convinced me to go for this journey with him. To our surprise, there was a place where we could buy hot food. My friend asked me did I want anything. I said something like “yes probably, just bring me something”. He disappeared, and a moment later, he was back with a juicy, beautifully smelling burger. He brought me … nothing. I was furious. I was blaming him. It was years after when I realised that it was me who was wrong, and there is the right way to hold people accountable.

It is a tricky topic. To hold people accountable, I need to be in the right mental spot. I recommend reading “Extreme Ownership” book to get into the habit of taking full responsibility in every situation. It was clearly my fault my friend didn’t bring me anything. I was tired, frustrated, and I was not specific. He asked me, but my answer could be interpreted as “just go away, I am struggling here”.

Let’s assume we are in the right mental spot. We take full ownership, and we still want to address someone’s else shortcomings. What is the right way to hold people accountable?

The right way to hold people accountable

It is simple but not easy, and it consists of several steps and a few questions that I need to answer. I need to start in advance. It is all about me, not others.

Do I know what I want?

First and foremost, I need to know what I want. Remember the story from the beginning. I was just vague. It was apparent I was hungry, but I also was angry, and I just said something very obscure. My friend is not a mind reader, and he just did what was the best in his opinion. What if he bought me the wrong thing?

Now, let’s implement this to the business. Imagine the situation when you ask your colleague for a report. You say “Can I have this report tomorrow”? It seems fine. However, if you are in Europe and the other person is in the USA, “tomorrow” is vague and you need to be precise. How about “Can you send me the report that we have been working on together, by the end of your day today, so that I can have it tomorrow my time? It’s important as I will be presenting and I need to prepare”.

Did I ask them?

It is classic for so many scenarios. In my story, I could’ve just said “buy me whatever you are buying for yourself”. Instead I thought my “maybe” means already asking for a favour.

To implement this to business, ask yourself – how many times we say “We should have this report”. “You should work more productive”. And many many other vague half statements, half wishes. To be able to hold people accountable the right way, we need to be specific with our asks.

“Can you <action> by <exact time> because <why it’s important for me>”.

To be able to hold people accountable the right way, we need to be specific with our asks. Click To Tweet

Did they agree?

It doesn’t end here. So far, it’s one-way communication. Even if I am particular, and I express why this thing is essential, I still need to hear from the order side.

I could’ve asked my friend very specifically what I wanted, but he could say: “I don’t have that much money on me”.

In a business situation, I cannot assume the job will be done, because I was particular with my asking. I should wait and confirm if it’s clear and could be done within the requested timeframe. They need to agree.

I cannot assume the job will be done. They need to agree. Click To Tweet

Hold them accountable

In the majority of the situations if you follow these three simple steps and check these questions – the job gets done. There are, however, circumstances that something will not be completed, burgers will not be handed over. In these occasions, I still need to take full ownership of the situation. Maybe my instructions were not that good and clear. Perhaps the other person has some different challenges, and I ignore to see them.

It is an art of providing constructive criticism. It’s a topic for a separate blog post. I will summarise; the right way to hold people accountable is:

Hold people accountable, but behave the same way as you wish people hold you accountable.

Hold people accountable, but behave the same way as you wish people hold you accountable. Click To Tweet

Lessons learned during this coffee journey

  • Do not assume people will read your mind, instead be very specific with your asks.
  • Do you know what you want and do you know how to express it?
  • Did you ask them with a particular request, time to accomplish and why it’s important?
  • Did they agree to complete with all parameters (time, scope, etc.)?
  • Holding people accountable is an art, similarly to providing feedback. Own it, even if they failed. Maybe your instructions were not that good?
  • Good read on this topic from Gallup institute

Cover photo: Coffee conversations in Lisbon, Portugal 🇵🇹 2012


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