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How to Balance the Dynamic Tension Between Kindness and Accountability

For many, kindness and accountability often seem in tension with one another; however, it doesn’t have to be a carrot (kindness) and stick (accountability) situation.

Think of it this way: Accountability and kindness are both part of the same package when it comes to supporting individual and collective growth and performance.

Breaking It Down

First, let’s define kindness and accountability in the context of the workplace.

Kindness includes an understanding of where the other party is coming from, providing support – and the power of kindness in the workplace can’t be underestimated.

Accountability includes doing what you said you would do.

A Path to Growth

Accountability with kindness contributes to the growth of both individuals and teams. Having those level-setting conversations creates clear lines of communication between individuals. For example, setting clear expectations on timeline and quality of delivery through open communications gives room for people to negotiate and say, “Hey, I’m actually feeling really burnt out right now” or “I have 10 things on my plate.” In short, it creates conditions where that’s an acceptable conversation to have in the workplace.

This is where kindness comes in. Open communication channels allow managers to gather the information needed to set their teams up for success while ensuring employee wellbeing. In this case, you now know your employee is burnt out; however, they’re responsible for getting a deliverable finished. Armed with this information, the manager can shift resources and expectations to both support employee health and well-being and meet objectives. By adding kindness to the mix, you’ve used accountability to head a missed deliverable off at the pass instead of being surprised when expectations aren’t met.

How to mentally map kindness and acountability to achieve your desired outcomes.

Putting it into Practice

Sometimes, accountability is viewed as creating inherent conflicts, and we often see accountability falter in organizations due to conflict avoidance. This is often the result of unclear or changing expectations. An individual may have been working in a certain way for years. Maybe they’ve even been promoted while behaving a certain way. Then, a leader tells them that way of working is not acceptable and needs to change without having an open conversation about the “why.” Without the “kind” approach laid out above, both the employee and the leader are set up for disappointment.

Furthermore, this situation may lead to negative conflict rather than positive, growth-inducing, conflict. When organizations feel that tension between accountability and kindness, it’s often because accountability feels complex (i.e., it’s missing the clarity that comes with open dialogue). However, when expectations are clear, there is a lot less room for negative conflict. For example, no one can say “You never told me that” or “You never communicated that, so how was I supposed to know?”

So, where do you start to avoid those situations? By building relationships. When a leader doesn’t have relationships with the people they must hold accountable, accountability can come off as unkind and uncaring. But if you know the individuals, you understand who they are and what motivates them. That mutual trust makes it possible to have accountability conversations with kindness and understanding, leading to the benefits we talked about above.

Quick Tips

We love to discuss the impact culture can have on the workplace – and how to build one that is the right fit for a given organization. You can contact our culture and workplace experts here. In the meantime, here are four best practices to help you get started instilling kindness into accountability at your organization.

Know Your People. Take time to understand what motivates your employees so you can have the open dialog required to turn accountability into an organizational positive.
Shape Your Perspective. Enter your workday with the right perspective. Assume positive intent from your employees, specifically around performance issues. This allows you to begin accountability conversations from a place of empathy.
Know Your Purpose and Set Clear Expectations. Keep the goals of the organization and your team at the forefront of everything you do. Set clear expectations with your employees about achieving those goals. If everyone has a shared understanding of what is expected, it is easier to have conversations when performance isn’t meeting those expectations.
Give Effective Feedback. Learn to have feedback conversations that take the blame out of the situation. Focus on the data, what happened, and the impact of what happened. Then use that information to create a shared path forward.