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Helping People Take Responsibility

Abigail manages a team of exceptional people, who work well together to accomplish their goals. However, one person, Jim, regularly causes problems with the rest of the group. For instance, he consistently misses deadlines. When asked why, he points the finger at one of his teammates, instead of admitting that it was his own procrastination that caused him to fail. Jim's behavior has a significant negative impact on the team. People don't want to work with him, and they resent his apathetic attitude and his unwillingness to change his behavior. It can be frustrating to have people like Jim on your team. However, there are steps that you take to put things right. In this article, we'll discuss strategies that you can use to do this.

What Causes a Lack of Responsibility? People duck responsibility for reasons ranging from simple laziness or a fear of failure, through to a sense of feeling overwhelmed by the scale of a problem or a situation. Whatever the reason, if people fail to take responsibility, they'll fail in their jobs, they'll fail their teams, and they'll fail to grow as individuals. All of this makes it important to address the issue.

Signs of Not Being Responsible Sometimes it isn't obvious when people are shirking their responsibilities, but there are several signs to watch out for. These include:

  • Lacking interest in their work, and in the well-being of the team.

  • Blaming others for mistakes and failures.

  • Missing deadlines.

  • Avoiding challenging tasks and projects, and not taking risks.

  • Regularly complaining about unfair treatment by team leaders and team members – and engaging in self-pity.

  • Avoiding taking initiative, and being dependent on others for work, advice, and instructions.

  • Lacking trust in team members and leaders.

  • Making excuses regularly – they may often say "It's not my fault," or, "That's unfair."

Ways to Encourage Responsibility When team members don't take responsibility for their actions, some managers may just hope that the problem goes away. Others may try to remove these people from their teams completely. Neither of these approaches is ideal – the situation is likely to get worse if you just leave it alone; while laying people off should be a last resort, especially if you're dealing with people who have the potential to be effective team members. Instead, your aim should be to provide your people with the skills and resources needed to do their jobs, and then to create an environment where it's easy for them to take responsibility for their decisions and actions. And yes, sometimes you'll need to be firm and courageous, and sometimes your actions will cause conflict. We'll now explore a variety of strategies and tools that you can use to get people to take responsibility.

Start by Talking Your first step is to talk to the individuals concerned. Find out if there are circumstances that are contributing to the situation, or if there are problems that you can deal with. After all, bad things can happen in people's lives, and this can clearly affect their behavior at work. Then provide feedback , so that the individuals know that their behavior needs to change. The GROW Model may be useful here, and, depending on the circumstances, you may need to provide appropriate support. What you learn in your discussion provides the context for the next actions that you take.

Tip: Make sure that you have clear, accurate examples that you can cite when you provide feedback. If you don't, your arguments won't stand up, and you'll risk leaving the individual feeling victimized.

Ensure Adequate Resources A sensible early action is to ensure that your people have the resources they need to do their job . This might include providing training, equipment, access to mentors and coaches , and suchlike. This is a key step in helping people take responsibility for their work – if they don't have the "tools" needed to do their jobs, it's easy to shun responsibility! Tip: Take our How Well Do You Develop Your People? self-test to improve your team development skills.

Communicate Roles, Responsibilities, and Objectives Your people also need to know clearly what their job roles and responsibilities are. Make sure that you have an up-to-date job description for each team member, and be as detailed as possible about every responsibility that they have. When working with your team on a project, use a Responsibility Assignment Matrix to help keep assignments and responsibilities clear. You may also want to use a Team Charter to define everyone's roles and responsibilities within the team. Sometimes, people don't take responsibility because they feel apathetic about their work. They can't see how their efforts tie into the "bigger picture." So, make sure that they understand how their work ties into the larger goals of the organization . Highlight the importance of what they're doing, and also paint a picture that details the unpleasant direct and indirect consequences that happen when they don't do their work properly.

Re-Engage People This then leads on to re-engagement. Think about how you, yourself, feel when you're doing work that you love or care deeply about. You take responsibility for your actions, simply because you have a deep sense of pride in what you're doing. The same will likely hold true for your people: by working on re-engaging them , you can lead your people down the path towards personal responsibility. Your people will be more engaged if their work aligns with their values . Meet with them to find out what these are. Then, illustrate how their daily tasks and responsibilities align with those values. Team members could also be disengaged or dissatisfied because they're not in the right role. Take some time to discover their strengths and weaknesses, and analyze whether or not they're using their strengths. If not, they might be better suited in a different role. (You can also use job crafting techniques to reshape their role to fit them better.) Tip: Make sure that you're familiar with Herzberg's Motivators and Hygiene Factors. Herzberg identified common sources of job dissatisfaction, as well as highlighting the things that motivate people. You must do both in order for team members to be happy and engaged in their work.

Help People To Take Control Sometimes, people feel that they have no control over their lives. To them, it doesn't matter what they do or how hard they work, nothing makes much of a difference. People who believe that outside forces constantly influence their life are said to have an "external locus of control," while those who believe that their actions shape events, have an internal one. Ask team members to take our Locus of Control quiz so that you can determine where they fall on this spectrum. If you discover that people have an external locus of control, help them overcome this. Set modest goals so that they can achieve some quick wins ; and then help them build their self-confidence . Also, remind them of their strengths and past successes, and teach them how to think positively , instead of engaging in damaging, negative self-talk. You can also break up any large tasks or projects into smaller goals or steps. A huge project or goal will make people feel overwhelmed, and, instead of being accountable for their work, they're far more likely to shun their responsibilities.

Note: People who don't take responsibility often play the blame game. When you notice team members starting to point the finger of blame, stop them immediately. Shift their focus away from assigning blame, and, instead, direct it to what needs to be done to fix the problem and move forward.

Give Plenty of Praise Finally, be sure to give your people plenty of praise when they do take responsibility. And, help them improve by providing them with consistent, effective, fair feedback.

Don't Micromanage If you're having problems with members of your team not taking responsibility, it's also worth taking a fresh look at your own management style. Perhaps you aren't delegating clearly, or you're micromanaging them – if you hover over their shoulder and second-guess their every action, they're going to be reluctant to do anything without you in the background. So, learnt he art of delegation , and avoid micromanagement . Give your people the freedom they need to make their own decisions, but be ready to guide them in the right direction if required. If they're able to make decisions on their own, they'll start to realize that their efforts really do make a difference. Tip: By using these strategies, you'll be able to go a long way toward getting people to take responsibility. Some people, however, simply may not be mature enough to do the job. Do what you sensibly can, but don't keep them "hanging around" once you've exhausted all reasonable options. (Clearly, make sure that you fully comply with national employment law and internal HR policies when you take any action.) Tip 2: As you work through this process, document everything, so that you can explain your actions if challenged.

Key Points People who don't take responsibility for their work or actions are likely to have a negative impact on their team. Look for apathy, finger pointing, missed deadlines, or phrases like "It's not my fault" to spot team members who are avoiding accountability. To help people take more responsibility for their work, provide them with the skills and resources to actually do their job. Then, set up an environment that makes it easy for them to change, and help them to take responsibility for their decisions and actions. You can do this by:

  • Providing adequate resources.

  • Communicating roles, responsibilities, and objectives.

  • Re-engaging your team.

  • Helping team members to take control.

  • Avoiding micromanagement.

  • Giving praise.


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