It’s Accountability Day! (Or, Is It Really Motivation Day?)

By Dr. Lilian Abrams, PhD, MBA, MCC

Some of my days as an executive coach have a theme. Yesterday, it seems to have been “Employee Accountability Day”.

Accountability, of course, is the downstream outcome of motivation. With each client, we quickly moved from what went wrong (the negative side of accountability) to lessons learned and new approaches to try to individualize motivation for employees, and prevent negative outcomes in the first place.

Here’s my first example: One leader, “Susan”, is very smart, ambitious, fast-moving in pace, hardworking, and unsympathetic to performance levels that are lower than the high levels she demands for herself.  During our coaching meeting, Susan first told me all about a recent incident where Anna, her direct team member, didn’t quite act with the urgency that Susan felt was necessary, to plan an upcoming multi-day meeting with a high-stakes client group.

Anna let the ball drop repeatedly, and Susan was very disappointed and frustrated. Susan told Anna about the negative impression she was having on the client, and then Anna stepped up her performance.

Susan and I first discussed what she could learn from this incident, and what she might do differently from the get-go next time. Then, Susan sighed, and said plaintively, “Why don’t I have team members who would run through walls for me? I would love to have people who would do things really well, not because I told them bad news, but just because it was me who asked!” Well, this lead to a whole ‘nother discussion, about what that would take.

After discussing a few leaders who Susan thought do have the kind of followership she wants, Susan realized that really, it starts with her.  As Susan realized, it’s “transaction in, transaction out” – if she treats people transactionally, then that is what she will get back, and not “running through walls”. To get a different dynamic, she realized that she needs to start it off by, in her words, “overflowing” in showing others her sincere caring and thoughtfulness on their behalf, both personally and professionally.

As a case in point, we started with Anna. She told me that Anna is really “into” nice teas. She also noted that Anna dearly wants to be promoted during the next promotion cycle.  Susan therefore decided to proactively think about who Anna might need to meet in her firm to help her achieve her promotion, and how Ann might approach them, as well as how Susan could help her.  Susan is now planning to bring that up proactively to Anna during their next one-on-one meeting. On the personal side, Susan also decided that the next time they were both in the office, she was going to bring Anna a special tea to try.  We then started to apply this thinking to all of Susan’s directs.  I expect that it won’t be long until Susan experiences a shift from Anna and others!

Next was Chang.  To make a long story short, he realized that one of his “problem” employees, who procrastinates, cares a lot of his reputation in the organization, while another was timid and wanting strong direction because he was afraid to make a mistake. We talked about what he could do and the right wording and approach he could use with each one, to motivate them towards better outcomes.  I look forward to hearing good things from him as well!

Elevate your Leadership Potential

To learn more about accountability, motivation, and executive coaching, reach out to Lilian for a consultation.