Employee Performance Conversations: The Accountability Ask


(Photo by Edmond Dantès)

Have you ever had an uncomfortable conversation with an employee regarding their performance or attendance goals? Have you ever heard from an employee, “I didn’t know,” or, “nobody ever told me?” Did these responses throw you off when you were trying to inform the employee of their shortcomings? There is a solution to this scenario, and it is surprisingly simple…accountability.

Accountability is the acceptance of personal actions that contribute to the success or failure of achieving a planned goal. According to one of my favorite leadership books, No Ego, by Cy Wakeman; there are four factors to accountability: commitment, resilience, ownership, and continuous learning.

I have had many conversations over the years with employees surrounding their performance. Usually, the conversation begins with the people manager or HR informing the employee of the areas in which they need to improve. Next, the conversation pivots to a plan and timeline in which the employee must meet or exceed the defined performance expectations. In my experience, nearly eight out of ten times, this conversation turns to an ugly debate or an awkward silence session where the employee is offended and assumes that this conversation now means that it’s time for them to find another job. The silver lining is there are a few times in which the employee owns the responsibility for their shortcomings, appreciates the candid feedback and path towards improvements, and becomes further committed and loyal to the organization.

A few years into my HR career, I saw the success of a corrective performance conversation with an employee. After performance concerns were shared with me by their manager, we coordinated a sit-down conversation with the employee to review the areas of concern and shared a performance improvement plan, aka PIP. This plan outlined areas lacking and examples of said behaviors, a list of policies (copied form the handy-dandy employee handbook) that the employee needed to use to improve their performance, a date to have improvement goals met, and of course a disclaimer of our at-will policy.

I had conducted dozens of these types of meetings up to this point, and the following scenario is what changed my HR beliefs surrounding performance conversations with employees.

When the PIP was presented, the employee offered a sincere apology. They owned the responsibility of their performance; they didn’t make excuses. They knew that they were underperforming, they admitted to not being motivated as they once had been, and they shared that when a task became confusing, they were afraid to admit it and to ask for help since they were a tenured employee. This employee owned it, apologized, asked for forgiveness, and assured that they would improve in all areas listed within the PIP. This employee was beyond grateful of the opportunity to improve and be given a second change. More importantly, the employee took ownership, was committed to the plan of improvement, clearly showed resilience in their efforts to overcome the stigma of being known as a poor performer and took it upon themselves along with the openness to ask for help to continue to learn and grow in their role and beyond…ACCOUNTABILITY!

This once experience showed me that if conversations with employees are managed correctly; employees may take the same approach and accept accountability to remedy and improve. While you may not be able to force accountability onto your team; you can encourage those four factors of accountability to be the driver to employee performance- commitment, resilience, ownership and continuous learning.

Start by adding the following statement to all job descriptions, “additional duties are required as needed.” Then, set the tone of the organization as one where collaboration and support are shared core values. Check-in with employees regularly regarding their commitment to job. Share with your team the impact their job duties are making to your customers, the community, and to the business. When employee’s knows that they are contributing, they are more likely to actively participates in the company’s successes. Commitment and Ownership

Resilience is derived when an employee is committed to self-reflection and problem solving. Resilient employees ask questions and collaborate as they forge ahead through any concerns that arise within their role. A wonderful quote from the No Ego book that ties well with resiliency, “your circumstances are not the reason you can’t succeed; they are the reality in which you must succeed.” Resilient employees are more likely to overcome, adapt, and have an optimistic outlook on their role and their impact to the organization.

Finally, continuous learning. This seems obvious, but ideally the organization has tools, guides, and training solutions to help aid a committed employee with improvements efforts. The key is that the employee needs to own the continuous learning aspect of accountability, but the manager and company can invest in solutions such as training or tools to support this phase of accountability.

As an HR Professional, I believe that the lessons within the book, No Ego, by Cy Wakeman may inspire people managers and leaders alike to shift from reactive management approaches to proactive accountability efforts. This work will create sustainable performance standards, productivity efforts, and positive employee engagement. Happy reading!

Brightways Counseling Group • 7515 Falcon Crest Dr., Ste. 200, Redmond
brightwayscounseling.com • 541-527-5392


About Author

Heather Wall is the director of Human Resources at Brightways Counseling Group. She has 15 years in the HR profession, a master’s degree in management, SHRM-CP, certified strategic HR business partner, certified in strategic workforce planning and a certified human capital strategist. Residing in Central Oregon for the last two years, Wall has worked with several small to mid-size business throughout the state of Oregon, Washington and California as a business partner focusing on building HR infrastructure and balancing compliance and culture within the workplace. In addition to her HR work, Wall volunteers as a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) in Deschutes County, serving as an advocate for children in foster care. She resides in Sisters with her husband and two sons. In her spare time, she enjoys doing puzzles, playing in the snow and water (depending on the season), exploring new restaurants and spending time with friends and family.

Leave A Reply