How Good Managers Can Hold Employees Accountable

In order to be a good manager, you need to hold employees accountable. Accountability is still one of the most important aspects of sales management. Unless you hold your employees accountable to some measurable degree of success, your business will plateau and remain stagnant.

Recently, Jeff, a sales leader from one of our top clients, stated that he was happy with our management training workshops from 6 months earlier. But Jeff felt his management team needed a “jump-start” session to break through a lack of motivation.

Through application of our (Sales Bridge) Motivation module at Performance Based Results, we established that Jeff did not effectively communicate to his management team what was expected of them. His team had no clear performance objectives or standards to follow.

Managers fear confrontation to hold employees accountable

Let’s face it, frustrated managers like Jeff are trapped in a maze of accountability. They would rather put up with mediocrity than make waves with employees. Interpersonal conflict can be nasty and unpleasant. They’re terrified that if they push their people too hard, they’ll quit, and then they’ll have to find replacements, and what if the new employees are no better than the previous ones?

Managers need to face conflict and set clear standards to hold employees accountable

How can you hold your team members accountable unless they know exactly what they’re being held accountable for? How do you get everyone to embrace accountability? As a manager, it’s imperative that your employees thoroughly understand how their duties fit with the corporate goals. Unless each employee has a complete understanding of what those goals are and how they’re measured, you won’t get the maximum possible results. When individuals are not held accountable for their performance, employee motivation goes down the drain, and one way or another, the whole company suffers.

To hold employees accountable, managers need to discourage a corporate culture that rewards mediocrity

It’s very common for a new employee to come aboard with lots of energy and enthusiasm, only to quickly “run-out-of-gas.” Some reasons for this are:

  • The new hire experiences peer pressure from co-workers who have a fear of “looking bad” to the boss because of their mediocrity.
  • The new hire looks around at his or her peers, and thinks, “Hey, I’m the only one working my tail off around here! Maybe I should slack off and just join the pack.”
  • The new hire feels unappreciated and that time is being wasted in this new workplace.
  • The new hire sees the pace at which everyone else is working, and then adapts to that speed.
  • The new hire is discouraged to excel because they are being held accountable to exactly the same standards as individuals who consistently do the least amount of work possible.

Managers must set clear objectives, goals, and performance standards to hold employees accountable

Few things take the wind out of a good employee’s sails more thoroughly than being trapped in a corporate culture that seems to reward mediocrity. This can make even the most gung-ho team member feel unappreciated and listless in the workplace. What’s the point of trying to be a cut above when you’re held accountable to the exact same standards as the people who consistently do as little as they can get away with? Most people want to be held accountable, especially if they’re doing a good job and want to be recognized for it. Remember, all the team members are individuals with motivations as different as their work styles.

An effective team leader initiates a meaningful dialogue with his team:

  • Setting up areas of responsibility
  • Creating smart, specific performance standards
  • Establishing smart criteria

You’ll risk losing your best workers if you don’t discover ways for them to feel successful and accomplished in their positions. The best way to understand what people value is to engage. So talk with your employees, and really listen to what success means to them.


  1. I have an employee that feels she is entitled as a long time employee. We all love her but she needs to follow the rules. She’s mad because she wants to mahe her own rules, the company “owes her” for tears of service. Feels entitled. What do you do with this?

  2. Debbie, thanks for sharing. It sounds like she’s been conditioned to behave this way for quite a while. And I bet management has allowed this to occur for all these years. You and others are raising eyebrows that this isn’t fair and it probably isn’t . But no one has confronted the situation A culture that doesn’t instill accountability has been allowed to fester. I am not convinced that she’s the problem. Management allowed this to happen.

    Debbie like many folks resist change out of fear, looking stupid, or making mistakes. Good coaching, nurturing, and selling her on the idea why change is good is a starting point. Encourage her to get her out of her CZ. build her confidence. If that does not work then find ways to push, prod, challenge her. And perhaps even have the tough love conversation.

    However, she must be doing quite a few things right. you said that you and the team love her. So give praise to those areas where she does well. Challenge her where she isnt’. , That’s why communication internally is so important. So my recommendation is to start with senior managment and challenge them first before you challenge Debbie. Don’t be surprised if the response comes back lukewarm. If that’s the case, well then you got your work cut out for you. And I say good luck in getting her to change.

  3. I am a 8mo new sales/store manager in retail. I have 13 years experience as a top seller and its the common *promote the good salesman, not the good manager* situation ill admit. I want to become better at my job. I am having issues with my Reps changing to unacceptable availabilities (no nights/weekends) and others who just don’t meet minimum goals due to laziness. I am bad with confrontation and do not have much support or even contact with my boss whom ive asked to help develop my weak areas. What are some ways for me to develop myself and also hold my people accountable for things ranging from tardiness, habitual absenteeism, to under performance and borderline insubordination? My location is ranked top 5 performance YTD of 700 locations but I am back to selling to succeed rather than managing my people to succeed like I would preffer.

  4. Nathan, thank you for sharing your challenges. You are obviously a great employee and the company sees value in you to become a manager. I am sorry to hear your boss is not being more responsive. Grant it, it’s not easy to ask for help. Yet, this is the very reason why you need to reach out to him/her so you can grow. You mentioned you don’t like confrontation. I agree, so work on being more assertive, by asking for what you want so you can give others what they want. Go to your boss and be professional, polite but persistent that you need his input. Nudge him or her. If he or she can’t assist, ask who can? What training does your org provide to help you transition into the managerial role? Now is the time to address these issues before they fester. What consequences do you have in place for employees who are tardy and/or not getting the job done? The same thing applies as to what rewards to you have in place to recognize individuals who go above and beyond? I ask this because it sounds like you need more clarity on performance standards so you can reward good performance and vice versa for poor performance. You want to be careful because morale and motivation could sink if you don’t address these issues. Not that I am recommending this but when can your boss get involved, let’s say if you had to terminate someone for poor or unethical performance? You have a right to speak up and insist that you get support from your boss. Best now and not when you could potentially be in a crisis mode. I wish you well. good luck.

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