I’m Holding You Accountable, Not Hostage!

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Leading a culture of accountability allows you to create a sustainable workplace that communicates clear expectations, is growth oriented, focuses on the development of individual employees, is predictable, consistent and safe, generates balanced workloads, breeds leadership, is built on trust, and inspires long-term commitment. So, why do so many leaders struggle with holding their employees accountable? And on the other side of the coin, why do so many people take offense to being held accountable? I believe there are several reasons why, but what commonly happens is that the organization lacks clearly defined protocols for accountability, therefore it is inconsistent and gets poorly executed.

I truly believe that accountability can make or break any school or district. Success begins with leaders who model accountability - it is what separates those who are great from those who are mediocre. Those who avoid accountability are actually protecting the worst employees while dishonoring the best employees. This ultimately leads to a culture of resentment, distrust, turnover and a significant drop in growth and achievement.

Start by building relationships based on integrity, trust and transparency. Like students, adults find comfort and safety in an environment with high expectations and accountability. It is just as important for staff to be confident that there is a high level of leadership support and opportunities to collaborate. Accountability must be exercised with fairness and consistency in order for the staff to believe in your efforts to create a healthy culture. When they know their colleagues are being held accountable, it is a confirmation that their hard work is being honored and it strengthens their belief that doing the right thing does not go unnoticed.

Action steps to demonstrate a culture of accountability start on day one. When you observe behaviors that do not move your mission, vision or school goals forward, you must immediately address employees, one on one. (Just be sure to adhere to the district's documents that are already in place, including the employee handbook, board policies and contracts.) It starts with a simple conversation that comes from a place of care and support for the individual employee and the entire school. When you don't address individuals in hopes that the issue will iron itself out, you are inadvertently robbing the employee of an opportunity to grow and improve. If noticeable improvements do not occur with an honest conversation, then you must follow through with a directive that requires actionable steps on the part of the employee. Your protocol always begins and ends with documentation and it is important that the consequence matches the level of unprofessionalism.

When a conversation for redirection doesn't work, the next step would be to meet with the employee and issue a verbal directive, memorialized in a carefully crafted email and sent to the employee immediately following the meeting. This begins the documentation process, but typically is not part of the personnel file at this point. If the behavior continues to escalate despite the directive, generally you would progress to a verbal warning memorialized in a written letter. This stage and beyond should involve Weingarten Rights (allowing the employee to involve a union representative) and documentation should be sent to the personnel file in the office of Human Resources. A verbal warning progresses to a written warning and if additional strategies are necessary, it is time to involve Human Resources as the next potential steps can involve suspension and termination. As a general rule of thumb, anything prior to a written warning should be communicated to Human Resources and action steps past a written warning should be conducted by Human Resources.

It is important to note that each situation is unique and may not be progressive in nature. Some behaviors may jump past a simple directive and verbal warning if it is warranted. Certain violations can move straight to termination, but not without a proper investigation and careful management of policies and procedures. Hopefully, major employee issues are far and few between, but it essential that you are trained and well prepared to handle them if and when they do occur. The key is to be transparent and create a healthy culture of accountability up front, so the focus and energy of your building remains on the students and prioritizes teaching and learning in the classroom.

Written by Carol Baaki Diglio, an MASSP Consultant with Consulting by Diglio. Carol is a veteran administrator who recently retired from the Novi School District. She spent many years as a High School Principal and as the Assistant Superintendent for Human Resources.

What to learn more? Attend MASSP's upcoming workshop "Holding Staff Accountable, Not Hostage" on Oct. 11 in Lansing with Carol Baaki Diglio. For more information and/or to register, please click here.