Updated: Jul 29
The Covid-19 pandemic brought about a significant shift toward remote work, prompting senior business leaders to become more attuned to the needs of their employees.
Striking a balance between effectively motivating project team members and holding them accountable is crucial for project leaders today; how a leader approaches this responsibility can impact the project's performance. Below are ten tips I have gleaned and adapted to the project environment on how to motivate your team members while still driving high performance, productivity, and engagement:
1. Communicate Clearly & Regularly With the Project Team
To effectively motivate team members while holding them accountable, a leader must communicate, lead with empathy, foster a culture of accountability, build a sense of community, and celebrate success. By following these steps, leaders can balance motivating team members and holding them accountable.
2. Make Team Members Feel Heard
People like to feel heard, acknowledged, and respected. Leaders who can accomplish this will effectively motivate and engage their teams. Not all decisions will be aligned with employees' preferences, but that’s okay. Employees can understand and accept that when they feel their voice has been heard.
Listening is the most underrated leadership skill. Leaders who take time to connect, seek input, and listen to project staff to build trust and better understand how to motivate them. This creates space for conversation about balancing project needs with employees’ needs. With confidence, employees are likely to perceive good intentions when corrective feedback and accountability measures are necessary.
3. Set Achievable, Measurable, And Scalable Key Performance indicators (KPIs).
Staff need more than motivation; they need leadership. They need an example, a mission, and core values. They need to know what you stand for, and that you represent something they can get behind. When they trust you, they don’t need motivation. Provide a roadmap for them to follow with good key performance indicators. Good KPIs are challenging but achievable, measurable, and scalable. This is how you hold your project team accountable and help to drive project performance.
When leaders intensely focus on people and their sense of purpose at work, things get easier and faster. Inviting employees to manage the project together helps increase motivation, as team members get opportunities to directly influence the project direction and contribute to the (hopefully) successful outcome. Clarifying KPIs together enables a shared understanding of business targets and makes people accountable. When team members work remotely, it’s essential to modify reporting procedures so that the project leadership team and other managers have a clear picture of the daily or weekly activities, as appropriate. This can give the employee the space and time to get work done as needed, yet it ensures that the role’s responsibilities are met without overt micromanaging, which can erode trust.
4. Create Expectations Collaboratively
Expectations, by definition, are one-sided. For a leader to effectively motivate employees while holding them accountable, it starts with a mutual agreement on what success looks like. If the leader and team members align on the measures of success, then there will be more time spent providing value to customers than time spent going back and forth on accountability.
5. Reflect Inwardly And Demonstrate Empathy
Balancing empathy and accountability must start with the belief that both can coexist. Often, project leaders think that if they are too empathetic, then they are allowing things to slide. If they are too forceful about accountability, then they are being insensitive and overly demanding. Balancing the two means acknowledging each other’s human experience while focusing on how to reach goals.
Today’s leaders can strike a balance and effectively motivate team members while holding them accountable by reflecting inwardly and demonstrating empathy. Everyone has to manage the reality of family and personal matters before and after work. If leaders demonstrate care, employees will be motivated to do more and demonstrate loyalty through their performance.
6. Practice Effective Change Management
Motivating employees while holding them accountable begins with effective change management. The pandemic has left us expecting employees to respond to changes immediately. The best strategy is to prepare employees by sharing the reasons behind a change, developing a timeline to implement it, and supporting employees through it. This will produce motivated, accountable employees. - Jill Helmer, Jill Helmer Consulting
7. Conduct Regular Team “Pulse” Surveys And Assessments
Today, many project leaders cannot demonstrate accountability and responsibility consistently. To do so, they should seek to understand how their teams are motivated before imposing accountability on them. The quickest way to do this effectively is by conducting surveys and individual assessments to drive mutually established expectations. The rest will naturally follow. I have completed “pulse surveys of my project teams in the past, and they were instrumental in understanding my project teams' concerns, and expectations, and how I can effectively lead them. Other examples include 360 personal feedback for team members, trust assessments, etc.
8. Successful Project Leadership Has Direct Conversations With Team Members
Authentic project leadership is critical when navigating and balancing the necessary changes that evolve the external environment with the internal changes that need to occur. Having direct conversations with an authenticity that will highlight those “asks” is crucial. This will bring a higher level of awareness to those involved, allow them to ask questions, and help them feel they are being included.
Most senior leaders operate in a traditional mindset; in vertical leadership, it’s through more of an “expert” or “achiever” lens. When leading a complex project, the pace of change requires a more full-circle approach. A human-centered, adult work culture is about accountability, not the seat. Leaders are confusing where team members sit with what they produce. Project leaders need to lift team members.
9. Give Enough Autonomy, But Not Too Much
You cannot effectively hold people accountable for something in which they have had no input. That’s stealing employees' autonomy, which is something all humans crave. Steal too much autonomy, and it feels like being controlled. Give too much autonomy, and it can feel like chaos. So a leader’s job is to find a balance and give just enough clarity and autonomy to ensure their team is not threatened.
10 . Serve As A Role Model And Empower Shared Ownership
As a leader, you’re a role model for everyone else, so make sure everything you say and do is what you expect from your employees. The best form of motivation comes from shared ownership, so by empowering people to be part of the process, they naturally become more accountable for achieving results.