Effective Communication Requires Accountability

I once heard a university president answer a student question in a brilliant way.The student asked about the challenges of parking with the limited parking spaces on campus.

The university president replied, “There are 21,000 students and 26,000 student parking spaces on campus. We don’t have a parking problem. We have a walking problem.”

In that simple response, the university president lasered in on the root of the problem. Students were not having challenges finding parking spaces. They were having difficulty finding parking spaces close to their classes. Two entirely different problems as the president made clear.

I find that what we often refer to as a communication problem is really an accountability problem.Two examples to explain what I mean.

When employees violate a policy or procedure (fill in the blank with your company’s most common challenge), management often demands corporate communications distribute an email to fix the behavior. Instead, managers should hold the offending employees accountable for their actions, and that action would be one of the best communication tools. Employees talk, and employees who are held accountable will share their consequences.

When participation is low in a required program, again management turns to email, posters, intranet or newsletter articles. But the reality is both managers and employees know what they need to do, but the managers have not made completing the task a priority for their employees. If managers made it clear to employees that task completion was a priority, and their would be consequences for failure to complete the task, participation would be much higher.

Like the university president, I heard another great response from a senior leader when it came to communication and training vs. accountability and consequences.

He asked the room full of managers, who advocated training as the solution to change behavior, this simple question. “When you are having trouble getting your teenage son to clean his room, do you send him another email (communication) explaining the steps he needs to take (training) or do you get a faster response if you tell him he is grounded (accountability) and can’t use the car (consequences) until his room is clean?”

His son, like a manager’s employees, knows what he should be doing and doesn’t need any additional training to understand how to clean his room. His answer made it clear to those managers that part of their role is to hold their employees accountable, and that means enforcing consequences when behavior doesn’t meet expectations.

Before asking for another email, poster or newsletter article when results are less than expected, I would ask you to consider whether management is holding employees accountable. Because without accountability, communication can’t be effective at driving behavior.

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