What do you do when someone doesn’t do what they committed to?

They were due to deliver something, but when you follow up, there’s always an excuse or someone else to blame – ‘they never replied to my mail, finance is too slow or fill in the blank’.

Most people don’t say anything, and then passive-aggressive behaviour begins. When there is no consequence for non-delivery, it becomes culture because, ultimately, silence is permission.

The reality is that you cannot change other people, but you can begin with yourself. I do not propose having a magical solution to the accountability question. Still, I do have some practical suggestions that can you start with today to create change within yourself and role model to those around you:

Do not delay the conversation.

The problem with not addressing non-delivery immediately is that every seemingly insignificant incident stacks up over time. Your resentment begins as a slow simmer, and it eventually builds up to such a point that the slightest thing will set you off, and you completely lose it and overreact. What’s even worse is that you are the one who looks bad in this situation.

Most people fear conflict or having to go through the discomfort of having this kind of conversation. Remember that silence is permission. If you don’t address it, the other person sees no need to change their behaviour.

If you’re a manager, you may need to consistently remind your team about their deliverables and hold them accountable if they do not deliver on their promise.

If you’re unsure when the right time to have this discussion is, then default to the rule of three. If it happens once, notice it. If it happens again, realise it is becoming a pattern and if it happens a third time, then this is your cue to discuss taking accountability for non-delivery.

Replace judgement for curiosity.

If the situation does not shift, you may need to do some investigation into the matter. Sit with your team member and understand what makes it challenging for them to deliver quality work on time. Is it a time management issue? Are they lacking in a critical skill set that has been overlooked? Are they overwhelmed and not clear on what done and doing looks like?

Use questions like:

  • What is working well for you?
  • What could be improved?
  • How can I help you?
  • How can you help me?

This conversation must be a trusted and safe space for this person; if they admit they lack skills, do not use it against them but rather thank them for their transparency and work on a plan to bring them up to speed.

Defaulting to judgement without a clear understanding of the other person’s point of view will quickly escalate to resentment and a stacking of passive-aggressive behaviour.

Replace defensiveness for ownership.

Where have you contributed to the situation?

This is a tricky question because your ego wants no part in this discussion. If someone didn’t deliver on their work and let you down or resulted in a disappointed client, we tend to blame and shame.

What if you slowed it down and took a step backwards to enquire – how did you contribute to the situation? Perhaps you never expressed your requirements clearly and assumed they knew what you wanted.

Do you lose your temper when someone asks you for clarification, interpreted as a directive to avoid you?

When it comes to having a tough conversation on accountability, you can express where you played a role and do a post-mortem of the situation to ensure it doesn’t happen again or explore what you could do differently next time the situation arises.

You can even ask the question – how can I support you? Do they need skills, clarity or assistance in defining their priorities and deliverables?

Adopt a role model mindset.

Are you living the behaviours you want to see in your team or those around you? Are you delivering on your promises?

Being part of a team often means relying on others to do your work, making a part of your delivery out of your control. When everyone does what they are meant to, work is a joy. But what happens when they don’t?

Role model the behaviour of following up – if you send an email, pick up the phone and let them know you’ve sent it, what the details are and what you expect. It’s not micromanaging; it’s fast-tracking the process and avoiding possible misunderstandings.

If you know someone is a ‘lastminute.com’ kind of person, reach out to them at the beginning of the week and ask if there is anything they may need from you in the next two weeks. This way, you can prompt them to think ahead so you are not left with an emergency.

Own your mistakes.

Accountability and a mindset of ownership are not only about delivery but taking full responsibility for mistakes. When you blame and shame, it doesn’t solve the problem and, quite honestly, puts you on the back foot. When you own your part in the process and admit, ‘this is what happened, and this is what I’m doing to fix it’, you take control of the situation.

Role model the behaviour of picking up the phone when delivering bad news rather than hiding behind email. Even if something is completely out of your control, you can manage the expectations of those around you. Silence will only intensify people’s frustrations; instead, stay in constant communication even if you don’t have the solution yet.

Above all, ask yourself the question – am I keeping my promises? If you can answer honestly with an undeniable yes, you are living a role model mindset.

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