Why Feedback Backfires when Accountability Is Important

By Ann Elliott

Person with Megaphone shouting

Business owners or team leaders know people must follow through to achieve goals for the organization to be successful. People who are being held accountable consider it a punitive action. Some managers, unfortunately, use accountability as a weapon. People do not respond well to punishment. It may, in the short term, produce some results. However, for the long term it’s not a very reliable way of motivating and getting a commitment from the people that are responsible for your success.

For example, I recall a small organization that relied on catching people making errors to improve their performance. A method to achieve this was to have senior people review the notes from client interactions that had been recorded by other members of the team. In a staff meeting, one by one the CEO called out the client’s name so the senior reviewer could announce the mistakes made by their teammate. Interestingly, the CEO was the biggest offender with insufficient documentation. He didn’t change his behavior because he thought he was above it all. People didn’t work harder to excel. They worked hard not to be caught making a mistake. 

 Doing business this way comes at a high cost. You have a team of people who are unmotivated and, in some cases, may even sabotage your effort. So here are some ways that giving negative feedback to promote accountability is counterproductive. People are unmotivated and set on sabotaging your efforts. People create alliances with others within the team or within the organization to undermine your efforts.. People not following the processes don’t achieve results because they’re not following the process, or they might not know what the process is.  In some cases, they refuse to use the process because they consider it a waste of time. 

The boss or the team leader knows best and can inform and correct an employee by giving negative feedback is a prevailing thinking pattern. In the industrial age, people were employed as a set of hands to carry out specific tasks. Employers didn’t want them to show up as thinking and feeling employees. That kind of management has seen its better days. When you hire someone to work for your company to help you achieve the corporate goals, being aligned with your values, vision, and mission bodes well for success. 

7 Reasons Employees Are Not Accountable for Achieving Organization Goals

1. The person you hire is not aligned with the values, mission, and vision of the organization. 

2. The person you hire is not fit for the position you’ve hired them to fill. 

3. The person is not trained to do the work that you have hired them to do. 

4. There is no training process to teach the new hire how things are done to your standard of excellence.  

5. There is no consistent process in place for anyone to use. it’s just everybody for himself. 

6. There is no means of coaching an employee to improve. 

7. There is no consistent way of delivering results when it’s important to have a process or a checklist to follow. 

Accountability Starts During the Hiring Process 

Holding people accountable to achieve their individual goals that support the company starts with the hiring process. First, you hire people that are qualified or can be trained to fill a role. Most importantly, they are aligned with your values of the company. Can they honor their values and be motivated in the work they do to support your organization? They understand the strategic plans for the company. They understand where the company is going. They understand where they fit in the success of the organization.

Once you hire the best candidate it’s important to engage them as quickly as possible into the organization.  Do they clearly understand their contribution to the organization? Do they see the importance of their achieving their goals to help the rest of the team? It’s an interdependent situation. When you are part of a team what you do matters to the rest of the team.

If you were not confident that someone you hired could produce the work, it would be pointless to hold them accountable to produce results. What to do when an employee falls short of the mark?

Prevent Failure in the First Place

The ideal scenario is to prevent failure from happening in the first place. Organizations that have a robust coaching program have a higher success rate of employee retention and performance. A coaching relationship is a nonjudgmental one. The coach’s major role is to provide support and guidance. The coach helps their client discover for themselves what they can do to improve. 

Giving feedback to point out errors corrects the mistakes. However, it doesn’t do much to foster excellence and employee development. Engaged employees who are using their strengths hold themselves accountable much of the time.

Contrast employee coaching with annual reviews and feedback. In the article, “The Feedback Fallacy,” by Marcus Buckingham and Ashley Goodall (Harvard Business Review March-April 2019 issue), they state that the person giving feedback is the “source of the truth.” “I know what’s the right way to do something and I’m going to tell you how to improve.” Buckingham goes on to say that pointing out their shortcomings and gaps impairs learning. It does not enable learning. This conversation with Buckingham and Goodall about feedback and why it is ineffective gives a deeper understanding..

Recently I was invited to submit an application to be a speaker at a conference. Once I completed the application, I shared it with my colleagues for input. They didn’t say this doesn’t work. Instead, they said “My reaction to this overview statement is that it is too long. I would shorten it to include language that the potential audience understands.” I appreciated the input, took it to heart, made the changes, and am speaking at the conference. Instead of feeling judged, I felt supported and encouraged by my colleagues.

In conclusion….

With clarity about the values, mission, and vision for your company, hire people whose strengths fit the role you expect them to fill. To do this, you need to have the job description and role clearly stated. Provide ongoing coaching that calls them out when you see them doing something excellent. Share your reaction to something you see them doing that works or doesn’t work. “When you changed your tone and pitch in your presentation, that kept my attention. You lost me when you read the text on the slide.” Provide the resources and training to improve their skills. What you give attention to, expands. Focus on excellence and outcomes. 

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Ann Elliott

Ann Elliott, founder of The Berkana Company, excels at leadership strategy

An expert at helping business leaders enjoy more profits and improved productivity with less stress, she blends fun and excitement with executive coaching and training to yield results for her clients.

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