Are you building employee ownership or employee execution?

Many CEOs whom I’ve had the pleasure of working with over the years have tended to struggle with a common issue—how to increase accountability and responsibility on their teams. As leaders, we often find it difficult to let go of the control we have on processes and projects that our employees are responsible for executing.

Letting go of this control; however, is critical to building a sense of ownership that employees need to feel fulfilled and accomplished in their careers. It is also key to increasing accountability and responsibility among your team. When you can let go of some control, you will find that you will benefit from improved accountability, responsibility, drive, and employee engagement.

To increase accountability and responsibility on your team, you must begin by establishing and building trust. You have to be able to trust your team to make good decisions and stay on-target, and your team has to be able to trust you to give them space to make decisions and—importantly—mistakes without fear of reprimand. This trust doesn’t happen overnight. It takes time and it takes steps to nurture.

Define Clear Goals

The first step is to clearly define measurable goals. This provides your team the knowledge and confidence to make decisions and deploy tactics that they believe will take them to the goal.

It is a good idea to create these goals with your direct reports who can help anchor overall business goals to functional capabilities and expertise. Defining goals as a team also helps lay the foundation for building trust and creates buy-in among the team.

Your goals must define the Afters of your team’s hard work, giving everyone at every level a clear vision of what good and great results look like. Making sure these goals are measurable is a critical component to creating this vision of what achievement looks like.

Establish Responsible Roles

Increasing accountability and responsibility also requires an increased sense of ownership in the people or person executing the work. Clearly defining roles and related responsibilities helps to achieve.. It also helps improve productivity and quality by ensuring that nobody is duplicating efforts or, on the flip side, not getting accomplishing critical tasks because everyone thought someone else was responsible.

Perhaps most importantly, clearly establishing the responsible role for accomplishing a particular goal means that everyone knows exactly who is responsible for what and where dependencies exist. People aren’t taking over other people’s assignments and there can be no blame games as the deadline approaches if deliverables are not met. If more than one person is point, then no one owns.

Relocate Decision Making

Once you have defined the goals and established responsible roles with your team, try to push the decision making for how the goals will be achieved as close to where the work is being done. This provides your employees with their own sense of control and ownership of the project—and the outcome.

Your talent wants a sense of ownership in what they do. This is where they get a real sense of accomplishment and fulfillment. When you make decisions on their behalf, you also take away their energy for the project. Rather than being the passionate leader to accomplish something great, they instead revert to simply doing what they are told and going through the motions. This energy can only lead to mediocrity or loss of top talent, depending on the personality type of the person being controlled.

Record & Measure Progress

Letting go of control does not equal letting go of accountability and responsibility—as we have been discussing, it is quite the opposite. Leaders may feel apprehensive to let go of control and let their team members drive ownership because they do not have the proper systems in place to measure progress and success.

You and your direct reports must establish a set of milestones and check-in meetings or reports to ensure forward progress. Without this, trust can easily begin to break down among the team, particularly in cases of longer-term projects or goals.

This is also why establishing clear, measurable goals is so critical to increasing accountability and responsibility on your team. You do not want to arrive at a project deadline, or at the end of the year when you are sitting down for a performance review, and find out that important project and organizational goals were not being met. If there are performance surprises, you have not done your job properly. Or, perhaps worse, your team thought they were successfully working toward a goal that was not agreed upon. They feel their hard work was not valued.

Recognize Progress

What gets recognized gets repeated. If you want to increase accountability and responsibility on your team, you must recognize people when they are doing a great job. This doesn’t mean a simple pat on the back and a generic “good job” every now and then.

While verbal and written recognition is always nice, it will only go so far for your really high achievers. The mistake that many leaders make in the recognition step is the assumption that verbal and written communication are enough. They may undervalue the fact that their high-achievers are often taking on far more work than their average or low-performers.

Your high-achievers are often the people that others go to with questions or for advice, they are picking up loose ends, and they are filling team skills gaps to keep initiatives moving forward. They are the personification of the phrase, “If you need to get something done, give it to a busy person.”

Keep in mind that you need to not just recognize, but also reward, the impact your high-achievers are having on your company. Not only are they contributing to the achievement of goals and creating financial impact, but they are also modelling the way for others on your team and helping to create a culture of excellence. Make sure you are taking the time to understand the person you are wanting to reward and rewarding them accordingly. While some people may value monetary rewards, others may value non-monetary rewards such as more time off or a particular experience. The more personal you can make your recognition and reward, the more effective you will be at influencing future excellence.

Influencing increased accountability and responsibility doesn’t happen overnight. Leaders and teams must work to build trust, develop effective communication channels, define and measure clear goals and roles, and learn what drives each person individually.

This is not an impossible endeavour. While it will take work, and there will be mistakes made, the long-term impact of developing a more accountable and responsible workforce that is engaged and driven to achieve your vision is well worth the effort.