Expectations and Accountability: Real World Frustrations and Strategies

Expectations and Accountability: Real World Frustrations and Strategies

May 30, 2024

Bridging Expectations and Accountability in Business Leadership 

As a consultant and advisor, engaging with numerous business leaders and influential team members has afforded me a unique perspective on a recurring frustration across industries: the challenge of unmet expectations and accountability within teams. This topic, as timeless as it is critical, reflects the complex interplay between communication, management, and performance in the workplace. There have been volumes written on this topic. Here is yet another short outline that can hopefully bring some value. 


The Reality of Workplace Expectations 

Imagine a typical scenario: a manager (John) tasks a team member—let's call her Jane—with a project. Jane acknowledges, setting to work on this new task along with her daily responsibilities. A few days later, John checks in, only to find the task undone, leading to disappointment and mounting frustrations. This cycle of expectations versus reality is a common pain point that often escalates into a trust and accountability issue within teams. Is John wrong for checking in? Is Jane wrong for not having it done? 


Understanding the Core Issue 

At the heart of these situations is often a disconnect not just in communication but in the understanding of priorities and time management. Jane, like many employees, juggles multiple tasks, with new requests changing her workflow. This isn’t just about Jane failing to meet a deadline she may or may not have been aware of; it’s about the entire approach to task delegation and priority management within the team. 


Effective Strategies to Improve Accountability 

  1. Clear Communication of Priorities: When assigning tasks, it's important to establish priorities clearly. A straightforward yet effective method is to discuss not only the specifics of what needs to be accomplished but also how these tasks rank in importance relative to existing responsibilities. If the person delegating is not fully aware of the current workload of the team member, initiating a conversation with the team member’s direct report, or directly with the team member about their existing assignments, can be an excellent way to ensure proper prioritization and task management. 
  1. Realistic Deadlines: Allow team members to provide input on deadlines. This not only sets a realistic timeframe but also respects their understanding of their own workload and time management needs.  With team members involved in the timeline, tasks tend to get accomplished, on time, more often. 
  1. Regular Check-ins: Instead of waiting until the expected completion date of the project or task, review progress and think about regular check-ins. These can be brief but are essential to address potential hurdles and adjust timelines as needed. A quick note or connection where the assignor asks if the doer needs anything can be helpful, if done within a reasonable timeframe. 
  1. Foster a Culture of Transparency: Encourage an environment where team members can openly discuss challenges they are facing with their tasks without fear of criticism. Transparency leads to better support and solutions. Asking can breed a better culture than telling. 
  1. Recognition and Feedback: Acknowledge accomplishments and provide constructive feedback. Positive recognition boosts morale and increases motivation, while constructive feedback guides future improvements. Positive feedback doesn’t take much, and a little often goes a long way! 


Leadership's Role in Cultivating Accountability 

Leadership is about guidance and support, not just oversight. By engaging with your team members about their tasks, offering help, and understanding their challenges, leaders can foster a more accountable and productive workplace. 

Every interaction with your team is an opportunity to strengthen relationships, build trust, and enhance performance. As leaders your goal should be to create a framework where accountability is not just expected but is a natural outcome of your leadership style. Addressing the challenge of expectations and accountability within a team setting requires a balanced approach of communication, empathy, and clear directives.  


Mark J Modzeleski, CFS, CLTC, AIF 

President, Legacy Wealth Advisors of NY