In the 10 years I’ve coached business owners and executives, one of the biggest challenges I’ve helped them address is how to most effectively manage their people and hold them accountable for results.

Holding people accountable is a really difficult thing for most business owners. Some don’t like confrontation. Some are pleasers by nature and are reluctant to come down on their people for fear they won’t be liked. Some are demanding, and not always in a nice way. Many owners think, “gosh they know what needs to be done, why don’t they just do it?”

I’ve had the same problem. Several years back, I was CEO of a company and inherited a senior team with a wide range of personalities. Trying to keep them focused and accountable for their results was really a challenge. At one point, I was failing miserably at it.

A mentor of mine gave me an invaluable piece of advice: Manage commitments and not people.

Once more with feeling: Manage commitments and not people.

The rationale:

For example, a business owner might struggle with some salespeople because they typically don’t like rules and, by virtue of being outgoing and verbal are adept at shifting the conversation away from their performance.

She may be tempted to try to reason with or convince them of her point of view.

But the personalities are beside the point here. The criteria for success should be: is the salesperson fulfilling his predefined commitments/goals?

If yes, and the commitments are met – celebrate! Reinforce the positive.

When they aren’t met, problem solve on what needs to be done to get back on track.

The process is:

  1. Sit down with the team member, discuss the work to be done, when it needs to be done, any obstacles etc.
  2. Link the work to be done to the larger plan and reiterate why the work is important – for example, because it helps us achieve our goals and makes the company great.
  3. Get mutual agreement: The team member agrees that he will do X work in Y time, delivering Z result.
  4. Get regular updates to track progress.

If people fail to deliver on their commitments over time, then it’s a different kind of conversation, where real consequences of non-performance are discussed.

When you manage the commitments, you take all the vagaries of personality out of the mix. It doesn’t matter what personality type people have. In many ways, it doesn’t matter much how they create their results. And it’s a lot less stressful for you the owner.