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How Leaders Hold Employees Accountable, Step 2: Communicate Expectations

Time and again, research has proven that businesses with higher levels of accountability in the workplace outperform those with low levels of organizational accountability. That’s because when employees make the personal choice to rise above their individual circumstances in order to demonstrate the ownership necessary for delivering on organizational goals, they engage more deeply with their work and feel compelled to hold people accountable. As a result, organizations boost operational efficiency, are more likely to achieve desired results, and outperform their competition by upwards of 150%.

Of course, employees are motivated by great leadership. It is a leadership team’s responsibility to keep employees engaged and accountable for hitting critical targets. Unfortunately, even great leaders struggle to hold others accountable: seven out of ten corporate leaders say that while they are willing and have the desire to hold others accountable, they aren’t sure how.

The Critical Role of Establishing Expectations

Leaders often fail to hold their employees accountable for one simple reason: they do not effectively set, communicate, and reinforce their expectations.

As such, leaders must establish a set of Key Expectations — the expectations that must be met in order to bring value and success to the organization. After they have psychologically committed to a set of expectations that are framable, obtainable, repeatable, and measurable, leaders must communicate these expectations to every employee through a top-down approach.

When communicating Key Expectations, leaders may be inclined to simply state the expectation in a meeting or company-wide memo and leave it at that. However, a Key Expectation is much more likely to be fulfilled if leaders explicitly address three factors: what, why, and when.

Communicating What Your Expectations Are

Though communicating what the Key Expectation is may seem like a no-brainer, it’s important that leaders carefully consider the way in which they express this idea.

Leaders should present what every employee must accomplish — the key task — in order for the expectation to be considered fulfilled. This should be stated in a way that is clear, concise, and memorable. The goal should be to ensure that every employee can recall their organization’s Key Expectations on the spot.

Communicating the Why Behind Expectations

The why behind an expectation is the purpose that drives it. When leaders establish purpose for a duty or task in the workplace, employees are more likely to commit to meeting that expectation. That’s because purpose enables employees to feel a sense of connection with their work and gives them a tangible reason to remain accountable to larger organizational goals. In fact, research indicates that employees who work for a company with a strong sense of purpose are three times more likely to thrive.

When communicating the why behind Key Expectations, leaders should anticipate and seek to answer as many of the following questions from employees as possible:

  • Why is it important?
  • Why me and not someone else?
  • Why now?
  • Why should we do it in this way?
  • Why should I want to do it?

If leaders can confidently and clearly express at least two of these whys, employees are more likely to connect with and feel motivated to meet the Key Expectation.

Communicating When Expectations Must Be Met

Finally, leaders must communicate a deadline by which the Key Expectation must be met. Since a hallmark of Key Expectations is that they must be repeatable, the when may be a recurring event: perhaps all employees on a retail sales team are expected to generate $1,000 in sales every day, or mortgage brokers are expected to sign four deals per month. Whatever the when, establish a specific date or time that solidifies the “achieve by” date in every employee’s mind.

Communicating an organization’s Key Expectations is only effective when leaders at every level commit to clarifying the why, what, and when for every employee. When Key Expectations have been effectively communicated, employees are empowered to go above and beyond to deliver topline organizational results.

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