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Driving Accountability Through Incentives and Consequences

This DATIS blog article, “Driving Accountability Through Incentives and Consequences", was originally written by Mike Figliuolo, thoughtLEADERS, LLC, on March 2nd, 2016 and was reposted with permission.

Accountability starts with clear communication around what you expect people to deliver. Once they know what they’re on the hook for, it’s all about using incentives and consequences to drive and reinforce behavior.

Accountability starts with clearly defining what you expect people to deliver. Are there numbers they’re supposed to hit? Deliverables they’re expected to complete? Processes they’re supposed to manage? Dedicate time to spelling these expectations out explicitly. Failure to do so isn’t fair to anyone involved. You can’t hold people accountable for performance if you haven’t told them what you expect of them.

Once you’ve defined what people are accountable for, you need to drive their behaviors. Incentives are a very powerful way for doing so. Leaders can create incentives for people who over-deliver on their accountabilities. Things like bonuses or promotions can be powerful motivators to drive the behaviors you’re seeking.

You can also use punishment or disincentives when people fail to live up to those accountabilities. Meting out consequences, while not enjoyable, is an effective method for changing behavior if you’re not able to get the results you expect by using positive reinforcement.

Allow me to offer an example. When I was part of an operating division of a large corporation, we knew very clearly what we were accountable for. We had revenue targets and customer count targets. One year we missed our numbers, and we didn’t get a bonus. It was extremely frustrating. We knew exactly why. We knew what the metric expectation was in terms of customer counts, and we fell short. But it was really difficult watching our colleagues in other divisions get big bonuses that year, because they met expectations.

The next year, again, we knew what we were accountable for. The numbers were clearly spelled out, and we exceeded our numbers and got a huge bonus that year. The incentives worked, it drove the right set of behaviors. Additionally, in that situation, individuals could still get merit increases based on their own performance of their specific accountabilities. So even in the year where the division didn’t get a bonus, we did have people who had done a great job, and they did receive extra incentives.

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