How to make your people accountable

How to make your people accountable

You can't make your people accountable. Get over it. It's that simple.

But none of these emotions engenders genuine accountability, and few of them would qualify as productive.

Employees must choose accountability. You can offer it, but they must decide whether to accept it. And you can't force them to do so. The best you can do is to try to create an environment that encourages them to make that choice. Here's how:

  • Communicate the importance of work.
  • Structure work to give people control over their own success.
  • Recognize and reward outstanding work.
  • Ensure that rewards and consequences are consistently and fairly meted out and are proportional to success or failure.
  • Take reasonable extenuating circumstances into account.
  • Structure work in such a way that people owe things to one another rather to the supervisor.

But again, you can only encourage them to choose accountability; you can't mandate that choice.

Even now, I can hear your protest: "I can discipline people if they screw up." True, but even if done well, discipline is only one means of engendering accountability. It's not the whole enchilada. More important, an employee who really feels accountable punishes herself for a failure more than you can punish her. Trying to make geeks feel things tends to be counterproductive. We don't like to be manipulated.

So give up on that dream of making people accountable, and start thinking about how you can make accountability a compelling offer. An invitation is the best you're going to be able to muster. Make it enticing.

Paul Glen is the founder of the Web community. Contact him at

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