How to Hold People to Account


" What you allow is what will continue.”

Until the 1900's large engineering projects were usually managed by the people who actually working on them. Henry Gantt, a mechanical engineer created the Gantt chart in the 1910's to manage complex civil engineering projects in the US, including the Hoover dam and the interstate highway system.


This system is still widely used today, and dependent on teams accomplishing their objectives in the allocated time. Holding people to account is critical in order to create a working culture that respects the execution of a larger vision.


The alternative would be a patchwork orchestra full of soloists who only care about their part, and who instead of music only creates noise. 

The Principal-Agent Problem 


We see the principal (pointy-haired boss) and the agent (Dilbert) with two very different objectives. The principal has a set of goals for the agent, which will likely contribute to an overarching outcome. The agent is trying to do as little work as possible, so he is only looking at what needs to be done on paper, not what needs to be done in spirit. 


Accountability is about committing to an outcome and not a task. 


We need to start by correctly frame expectations in service of the larger vision, and periodically check in when required. We will use Torben Rick's SIMPLE framework combined with some coaching questions to drive it home. 


S = Set expectations


Expectations need to be set through a conversation with what you would like as a principal, and what they can deliver as an agent. The conversation should revolve around what can and can't be done from the agent's point of view.


Strong aversion to the project will need you to explain the reason of why it needs to be done in the context of the whole. As the principal, you do have the right to define your shared reality, but it is important to do your utmost to get buy-in from the agent.


Through the conversation, it would be good to get the to summarise the project with the view of the larger picture, so you can acertain their understanding and ensure that the expectations are clearly understood. 

I = Invite commitment


Employees are more likely to do this when they understand two things: how the goals will benefit them personally, and how the goals will help move the organization forward
Once this connection is made they are more likely to buy into the goals, and actually welcome you holding them accountable for the results


M = Measure progress


Measurement of progress through quantified milestones is critical.  This allows both sides to better understand the issues related to the final deliverable. The more trust there is in the agent's ability to deliver, the less attention is required by the principal. 


A cognitive bias that commonly appears in group projects is a phenomenon known as social loafing. Each individual sometimes exerts less effort on a group project than they normally would if assigned the task alone. Measurement of projects is also critical for morale and team culture, in that social loafers must be addressed, otherwise, the hard workers could become cynical. 

P = Provide feedback


Feedback won’t solve problems by itself, but it will open the door for problem-solving discussions and follow-up actions The employees need feedback to do a good job and improve in areas where performance is falling short of expectations. Most of the time, giving objective, behavioral feedback is all it takes. 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.

L = Link to consequences


Sometimes employees need a little external motivation to live up to their commitments. When they struggle to reach their goals, they can be helped by administering appropriate consequences. 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 – some just need extra support and skill in doing it.

E = Evaluate effectiveness


Review how the process has been handled
Put a systematic and consistent method in place and you’ll find that when people are held accountable for the work that must get done, it gets done


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The Right Way to Hold People Accountable - Paul Bergman, HBR 


How to Hold People Accountable  - Torben Rick


Project Management for Dummies - Stanley E. Portny


The Questions Good Coaches Ask - Amy Jen Su


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