Can your 2-year-old teach you about workplace accountability?

Thought Leadership on Leadership Training presented by MKS&H.

When we were children, our parents used many schemes to get us to do what they wanted us to do. Remember the old adage, “This is going to hurt me more than it hurts you?” I’m not referring to physical punishment, but more the battle of wills. If you’ve ever disciplined a two-year-old, you know exactly what I mean. It is virtually impossible for an adult to get what they want by going toe to toe with a two-year-old. Instead, it takes a mature brain, finesse, and a whole lot of patience.

Fast forward to the workplace. Everybody in a work environment is faced with the need to hold their subordinates, themselves and their co-workers accountable. It is easier to envision the need for accountability in the direct report/supervisory relationship, but accountability is also necessary in peer groups.

So where to begin on the path to accountability? One way is to start with what we learned in parenting roles, of course! I remember early in my career when I had a flash of insight about how difficult parenting really is, and how the skills I was learning translated into my supervisory roles. That’s when the old adage I mentioned above returned in a slightly different form – “This is going to take a lot more discipline on my part than it will on yours (the subordinate’s part).”

Accountability is really a simple matter, in theory. It involves understanding what needs to happen and who needs to do it, communicating it to them and then disciplining yourself to get the job done. Really simple, right?

Let’s start with communication – does your direct report know exactly what is expected of him/her? Can they articulate it to you? If they cannot, there can be no accountability. However, once there is an understanding of expectations, the accountability process can begin. Regular communication between the two of you is critical to this process. By this, I mean one-on-one quality time that reflects the investment you are making in your people. I recommend having these conversations monthly.

This communication process, designed to increase accountability, can trip you up in many ways. That’s because we mature adults like to get our way, just like we did with the two-year-old. But very different skills are needed if you plan to help someone in your employ develop professionally and meet your expectations. One of these skills is learning how to structure the monthly conversation. One technique is to ask good questions. This approach will yield far more insight into what’s really going on with your employee than a conversation where you do all the talking. If you’re looking for guidance on how to have an open-question dialogue, try reading ‘Fierce Conversations’ by Susan Scott.

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