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Can You Bring Accountability to the Unaccountable?

We have had the privilege of working with many brilliant people over the course of our careers and have learned a great deal from them. In many ways they helped us to grow as leaders.

One of the most valuable lessons we learned was how to deal with people who are either slackers or incompetent in their jobs. They are difficult because they create a vacuum by not doing the work.

They can be found at any level of organizations and come in one or two types:

  • The Slacker who is the unwilling type

  • The Incompetent who is the unable type

  • The Slacker type simply doesn’t care or is just plain lazy. She will gladly check Facebook while everyone around scrambles to meet deadlines. This type is usually found in entry level positions and won’t last long unless the boss overlooks her shortcomings.

    The Incompetent type seizes up when decisions need to be made or an important task needs to be carried out. He is typically in over his head in a job that isn’t a good fit or is in a management role that is simply too big. The Incompetent is found at every level of organizations.

    When you work with Slackers or Incompetents, they will typically leave you or the team hanging. They don’t pull their weight and slow everyone down waiting for their approval or input on typical business matters.

    Here are a few strategies to work with and be successful with these human vacuums of space.

    Don’t be fooled by “good” communication

    In our experience, these individuals typically have engaging personalities and decent communication skills. They are friendly and appear helpful and willing to work together.

    It’s all a ruse. Don’t be fooled.

    When you attempt to work with them you begin to realize they spend more time and energy making excuses than actually doing the work.

    It’s “my dog ate my homework” on a whole new level and they are good at communicating why this or that can’t be done. They prefer to banter excuses rather than execute.

    Your queries, meeting requests and asks go into the dark vastness of space never to be seen again.

    Related: The Power of Silence

    Communicate in the public domain

    The question becomes, how do you deal with someone who habitually makes excuses?

    If you’re managing this person, you must employ clear communication with the deadlines agreed to by both parties. And then you must follow-up, follow-up and follow-up again.

    If you’re working with someone across departments, the CC option within your email platform will be your most powerful tool when communicating with them.

    We know what you are thinking - it is such a burn to CC a working group when addressing an individual. We acknowledge it can be uncomfortable, but if it needs to be done to move the business forward – do it. Identify your discomfort, acknowledge you’re doing it for the right reasons and push forward.

    As you communicate with these black holes, always include a deadline - publicly. Even though you know the deadline will come and go with no change – send the email.

    When they miss a deadline, simply send another email. Make your request clear and concise and include a new deadline. Simple.

    It may seem like you’re putting in effort for nothing but what you’re really doing is building a case. You see, they can’t help but send you a novella of excuses when you ping them.

    Let the numbers do the talking

    Nothing speaks louder than the hard facts. And when properly documented, these facts become a powerful tool to hold both the Slacker and the Incompetent accountable.

    Each time you ping them you need to log the correspondence. It may be a step that typically is not needed with other co-workers, but it is with them.

    Remember if you’re having to follow-up with someone more than three or four times to get something done – you need to be sure to log it. This may go on for months and you cannot just say, “Mary never sent it to me.” It needs to be documented.

    We have both employed this tactic to hold the The Slacker and The Incompetent accountable. Jill favors using the same email chain, printing it off and counting up the correspondence. Danny favors the spreadsheet. No matter the method - letting the historical record tell the story is a compelling tool.

    And when it is time to pay the piper and you don’t have what was requested to move an initiative forward - you’re covered.

    It takes time, energy and a fair amount of documentation to hold, The Slacker and The Incompetent accountable, but being accountable to one another is what teamwork is all about. Don’t hesitate to step up and show them the way.