The First Thing You Must Do to Make Employees More Accountable

 In Leading

When employees (and colleagues) don’t act as we want them to, it’s a pain. We get tons of rework. We have to pick up the slack (mework). We need them to be more accountable and we blame them for being lazy, indifferent, or millennial. But what if it’s not all their fault? What if a simple change in the way we delegate could dramatically improve employee performance?

Missing Clarity and Motivation

Since we are so busy, we mostly use the simplest form of delegation: just telling. “Do this.” It’s quick and easy. Sometimes it’s disguised as asking, “Would you please do this?” Though more polite, this is the same as telling: we have in mind and communicate to them what we want them to do. When we tell, we lose clarity. That is, we can’t be sure that they clearly understand

  • what we want them to do,
  • how to do it,
  • when to do it by, and
  • how important this is compared to everything else.

Most importantly, when we tell, we have no idea if they want to do what we want. You might say, “I don’t care if they want to do it or not. This is construction, fer cryin’ out loud!” But their motivation matters. Reason: no one likes (and everyone resists) being told what to do. With their buy in (no, not just with their compliance), we get done what we want and more: proactivity, happy work sites and offices, good client relationships, quicker problem solving, etc.

Even though we want to just tell people what to do, we need another delegation tool in our toolbox. That tool needs to deliver clarity and motivation.

Performance Through Enrollment

Let’s be clear: enrollment is a silly-sounding word. And, at first, it sounds like a ridiculous way to run a business. But hang in there; it works.

Enrollment is not tricking, coercing, selling, or pleading. Enrollment is having the other person doing what we want because they honestly agree it serves them, too. Generally, enrollment has three steps:

  1. We describe what we want (that’s easy),
  2. We debug for clarity (sounds easy, too), and
  3. We ask them if and how doing this would be good for them (what the..?!).

Notice that step 1 is the same as telling. Step 2 irons out the misunderstandings. Yes, step 3 will be uncomfortable. But it gets better quickly. The easiest way to ask is, “Why would you want to do that?”

Despite appearances, enrollment takes less time than telling. When we tell, we stir up resistance from lack of clarity or motivation. We practically invite rework and having to do it ourselves. When we take the time to enroll, we avoid all that.

When NOT to Enroll

Telling is still useful in two places: (1) when we already have enrollment and (2) in an emergency. If we have established enrollment on a topic, we can throw in a quick tell. Same is true if we are working closely in a team and we can see that everyone is still on board. In a crisis, our urgent demands come with clarity and urgency built in. But because the smallest things can erase clarity and motivation, let’s always watch for the need to re-enroll.

Of course, no amount of enrolling or telling can move someone who no longer fits the roll. Sometimes we have to fire people. It’s never easy to fire someone but if we have already tried enrolling them, we can let them move on to a better-fitting job with a clear conscience. (Shameless plug and helpful tip: send them to WRKS to find their next gig; use WRKS to find their replacement.)

Start Now

We’ll cover several good ways to enroll people in future articles. For now, the one thing we must do is commit to using this new tool. And here’s great place to start: over the next seven days, just watch. Notice all the times you ask and tell people things to do. Watch their reactions and yours. See when things flow and when they don’t, where there’s rework and mework. By the end of the week, you’ll know at least one person or situation to try enrolling with.


Today's photo credit: Washington State DOT