Scrum Team

How to Hold People Accountable Without Micromanaging Them

November 5, 2020

There is a fine line between accountability and micromanagement, especially in our current workforce environment where many companies are still remote. That’s why it’s more important than ever to understand the difference between the two!

Before we get into strategies for holding people accountable, let’s discuss the differences between accountability and micromanagement.

Micromanagement Focuses on the Process

Micromanagement usually cares more about doing things the right way rather than doing the right things.

Accountability Focuses on the Outcome

Accountability is zeroed in on the outcomes we are producing and holding team members accountable to clear measurable results.

Micromanagement Says “Check with Me First”

Micromanagers feel the need to have their hands on the wheel at all times. Before any decision can be made it has to come back to their desk.

Accountability Says “Figure It Out”

Accountability is fine with not only delegating tasks to team members but empowering them and trusting them to figure out solutions and make good decisions.


Six Strategies for Holding People Accountable 


Check in with yourself first. 

Teams work hard for leaders or project managers they admire, so set a good example. If you have a positive attitude and a high level of professionalism, your team will respect you and put in extra effort. In short, if you expect your team members to perform to your expectations, you must be a good role model for them.


Create a safe environment

Having checked in with yourself, once you feel ready to approach a difficult conversation from a place of curiosity, remember to be mindful of your tone, whether you initiate a meeting in person or through an email.

A great place to start is by asking the person if you can schedule some time or make a date with them to discuss a business challenge. Making an appointment shows your commitment to taking the time to listen. In addition, when you frame the topic around a business challenge, you eliminate the risk of finger pointing and indicate that you have enough respect to collaborate.

Once you’ve set up time to talk, begin the conversation by asking questions.

  • Provide specific examples, then ask, “What can we do to help you get back on track?”
  • If a team member has failed to reach their quarterly goals, you could say something as simple as, “How do you feel your work has been going this quarter?” and gauge their initial reaction.
  • Avoid jumping directly into critical feedback or using judgmental language such as, “Why would you…”, “You should have…”, or “That’s wrong.” It helps to assume positive intent in the other person. The goal here is to listen and to remain genuinely open to their “take” on things.


Ensure that there is clarity

Now that you have identified any underlying issues, it’s time to clarify that your intention in starting this conversation is to address the core of the issue and agree upon path forward (taking into consideration any new information you have just been given).

Whether your goal is to help a direct report meet deadlines or to collaborate more effectively with a team member on a project, it’s vital to make sure that you both understand what the issue is, how to address it, what success looks like, what needs to be done, by who, and by when to achieve it.

You might begin by recapping what you have heard from them so far to be sure that you understand where they are coming from. Once they confirm that “you get it,” acknowledge that what they have shared makes sense. It’s important to note that “making sense” doesn’t necessarily mean you agree, it just means that you are clear on their point of view.

Next, directly own and express your personal frustration with what you see to be the problem.

For example, you might say, “I know you are not intentionally missing deadlines, and now I have a clearer understanding of everything on your plate. But when you do miss deadlines, the result is that I have to take on your unfinished work, which causes me to get behind on my own projects. I often feel frustrated by this.”


Set clear expectations

Don’t assume that your people will instinctively know what you expect of them in terms of quality, deadlines or results. If you have specific requirements, explain them. For example, if you expect someone to check in with you at certain times, let them know. The clearer you communicate your expectations, the better the results are likely to be. Just be careful not to lapse into micromanagement.


Create a mutual agreement on how to move forward.

After ensuring there is clarity, ask if the other person would be open to trying some new strategies to address the issue.

Your approach to this last step may vary depending on who you are having the conversation with. If you are talking to a direct report, for instance, you might then say, “I want to set you up for success here.To make sure we are on the same page, can you repeat back to me what you understand the problem is and we can work together on a plan to move forward?”
If you are confronting a peer, a better approach may be, “Based on our conversation, let’s try to agree to a mutual set of objectives and then brainstorm on how we might develop an approach to achieving those goals.”

In all cases, seek to demonstrate empathy, and work towards a mutual commitment around a goal. From there, you can brainstorm and agree to some concrete next steps. Don’t just set it and forget it. Determine what communication tools you will use to check in on progress.


Regularly track and measure progress

You’ve heard of the importance of leaving a paper trail. While we don’t use paper much these days, the lesson is the same. Make sure you get the agreed upon plan in writing so it can be revisited going forward if there are ever any questions on what was originally decided.


Commit to setting those you work with up for success

As you begin to devise your plan, work with your colleague to set up realistic expectations. This is the only way to make sure you are both set up to win. Whether you are working with a peer, a direct report, or even somebody above you, before agreeing on next steps, ask them (and yourself): Does this all feel doable, given everything else on our plates? If the answer is no for either of you, go back to the drawing board.

When everybody is accountable, nobody is accountable. If you fail to delegate accountability for a task to one person, nobody has ownership.This is why it’s important to be specific.
What you don’t want is a situation where team members say, “I thought (someone else) was doing it!”


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