Make it meaningful!

A common phrase I have heard in one way or another is, “you can delegate responsibility but you can’t delegate accountability.”

Or as blogger Lydia Snider says with a little humor, “Holding someone else accountable is like trying to eat their lunch for them.”

Those phrases remind me of an annual program my YMCA runs to help us make it through the long and dreary winter. It creates almost crazed levels of accountability and motivation using basic psychological principles. Members are asked to simply record how much they work out and we receive one point for each hour we exercise. Each month they tally our points and list the number of hours for each participant. There is no grand prize, we don’t get a discount on our membership and our health insurance benefits don’t change. In fact, everyone who signs up gets the same tee-shirt for participating. Yet, this simple program increases commitment and personal accountability for healthy change. It leads to a measurable increase in the number of visits to the Y, an increase in fitness class attendance and I know I pay more attention to how many days a week I go out in the cold and dark after work to get to the Y! We are motivated to change our behavior.

In a similar way the individual commitment and accountability needed to change behaviors, performance and organizations at work must come from within your people. Leaders can’t “mandate” or “administrate” successful, long-term change. Taking accountability for making changes and committing to follow through, even when it is hard, requires motivation. For this reason, your change strategy needs to include tactics that increase motivation related to the desired change behaviors.

Richard Ryan and Edward Deci, leading researchers in human motivation, recommend that leaders take actions, provide rewards or design consequences for behaviors aligned with the desired change that increase employee’s feelings of competence, autonomy or relatedness.

  1. Competence – the feeling of being effective or valued for your skills and contributions.
  2. Autonomy – the feeling of having choices or the ability to influence how things are done.
  3. Relatedness – the feeling of being connected to others or of being a member of a group.

Leaders have the opportunity to create a climate that motivates employees to take accountability for behaviors that lead to successful change. Providing feedback, rewards, recognition and consequences for desired behaviors that help employees feel more competent, autonomous and connected will help you and your institution power through seasons of change.

Todd Thorsgaard


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