Struggling to keep your team focused on results without constant supervision? Here’s how to motivate them to create great work.

With limited funding and resources, most startups have to stay results-focused while racing against rapidly changing market conditions, consumer demands and overnight competitors. Founders and other business leaders have plenty to do without  micromanaging employees — especially when they should have their eyes on the prize and not over their employees’ shoulders.

Without constant supervision, how do you keep your team focused on results? It begins with accountability.

When the organization values personal responsibility and integrity, people work with focus and autonomy. But accountability only works if everyone agrees to it and holds others to their own commitments. (Click here to tweet this thought.)

There should be an unspoken agreement that every employee will work diligently towards completing their goals. This is not merely an agreement between employees and managers; it must exist in every relationship in the organization.

Is it better to be feared or trusted?

Intimidation doesn’t solicit authentic accountability, and any sense of responsibility born of fear won’t last long. Sure, people will get their work done, but it isn’t self-motivated. They’ll only perform to the point where they won’t incur your wrath.

Instead, establish trust with the team. Trust is at the center of accountability. It leads to self-motivated individual engagement aligned with a mission. Foster relationships founded on trust with managers and peers because most people show up more for other people than they do for themselves.

Entrepreneurs looking to gain trust should consider how they communicate with employees. By checking in regularly, you invite people to communicate their big wins, their innovative ideas and the places where they’re stuck. You instill a sense of ownership in your talented team.

Employee engagement and accountability emerges when your people feel heard and supported. Employees must be committed to their jobs from a place of desire, not fear. They’ll be more engaged and show up as accountable, reliable people.

Be the change

How valuable is your word? Without having integrity and demonstrating that you hold yourself accountable, no one else will feel the need to live up to their commitments and follow through on their duties. A leader willing to say, “I dropped the ball on this initiative” welcomes the same candor from everyone else at the company.

You can’t hold someone accountable unless an expectation is clearly voiced ahead of time and updated regularly as projects and responsibilities change. Without well articulated goals, employees quickly get frustrated. And frustrated employees stare longingly at the exit sign.

Have regular conversations and let everyone on the team know what’s expected of individual and collective efforts. Meet weekly to realign everyone around their goals. Give and receive regular feedback so expectations remain clear. If you wait until an employee’s annual performance review to discuss accountability issues, you’re behind the curve.

Accentuate the positives

Managers dread having the tough conversations with employees. No one ever wants to resort to punitive measures for poor performance. The fear of embarrassment or termination is the worst type of motivation and can often stifle the creativity you need from employees. Fear can motivate, but it’ll never inspire.

Positive reinforcement and constant support work better than intimidation or fear of being fired. Offer compliments, acknowledgments and rewards when others live up to their word and perform exceptional work. When employees know their manager supports them, they’re more likely to be fully engaged in their daily tasks.

You can’t always throw carrots around the office, and sticks don’t motivate. But by giving and receiving regular feedback in a culture that highly values trust and accountability, people will naturally show-up more engaged, empowered and driven to do their best.

David Hassell is Founder and CEO of 15Five, a SaaS company with a powerful and simple solution that gathers critical insights from employees in minutes each week, enabling informed management to get the visibility they need to boost engagement and drive alignment across their entire teams.


  1. Mary Gravitt

    Well said, I learned a lot again from this blog. Its better to be trusted than be feared. Try to settle down and assessed the situation. For me when working on a project I hate meeting deadlines. Rather, I just prefer to finish the project well ahead of schedule. One more thing in a company we must responsible, well organized and be a hard working employee. Good information. Thank you!

  2. James King

    When the organization values personal responsibility and integrity, people work with focus and autonomy. But accountability only works if everyone agrees to it and holds others to their own commitments.

    Click hereto tweet this thought

Comments are closed.