Do you want your people to be accountable and capable?

Stacey Ashley Blog

Do you want your people to be accountable and capable?

Last week I was speaking with Gary, an operational director,  who explained to me that he really needed his senior leaders to take a bit more accountability. To really step up and start to own their portfolios. But, he said that when they gave him their work to review, whether it was a business case or a report or a presentation that needed to be made to the executive team, that he found so many things that needed to be fixed.

He then spent a lot of his time either editing the information or writing copious notes so that his direct report could edit it.

As a result, he lost the time that he was going to spend doing some of the more strategic elements of his role. While he is remarkably busy, he did not feel that he could trust his senior leaders to follow through and produce the standard of work required on their own.

After a bit more exploration, it became a bit clearer. Gary was the expert in his domain, and he always had been. He did not feel like members of his team could complete a piece of work to the same level of quality as he could, or that they held the same depth of knowledge as he does. Because of this, he was not trusting his leaders to produce completed work and, in fact, wasn’t expecting them to either.

What was happening was his leaders were doing their work and then giving it to him to review, knowing he would review it. He was spending a lot of time ‘marking homework’ instead of expecting completed staff work from his senior team members.

When you have senior people working for you they need to take accountability for their portfolios. That is their job…not yours.

As their leader, your job is to make sure they have the capability to be able to do that.


That means you should mentor, model and coach every day.

Develop their capability and accountability in three simple steps:

  1. Mentor — Share your knowledge and wisdom. Transfer the expertise.
  2. Model — Set expectations of performance and trust your people to deliver.
  3. Coach — Your people to take accountability for their portfolio.


Gary’s starting challenge was to set the expectation of the standard of work for his team, so he would not be continuing to ‘mark homework’. I introduced the concept of Completed Staff Work to him, and he loves it.

The idea behind Completed Staff Work is that rather than your team members presenting you with work still in draft that you need to review and comment on and feedback, then you get another draft and then you do more comments and so on until you have a piece of work that you’re prepared to put your name on or to endorse, that work is presented to you as complete.


People and organizations don’t grow much without delegation and completed staff work because they are confined to the capacities of the boss and reflect both personal strengths and weaknesses.

Stephen Covey


What is Completed Staff Work?

Attributed to President Harry S. Truman, Completed Staff Work became prominent in the U.S. Army in the 1940s. Since then, the principles have been applied to commercial organisations and their operations.

Completed staff work is the study of a problem and provision of a solution by a staff person in such form that all that remains to be done by the boss is to give approval or disapproval of the completed staff action.

In simple terms, what it means is that when a member of your team provides you with a completed piece of work, you do not need to review. You do not need to mark it. You do not need to comment on it. It is finished to the standard that is required, and you simply need to endorse it. It is ready to be put in front of your boss.

So rather than doing the heavy lifting of marking homework, you need to be setting the expectation for completed staff work.

As leaders, we need to be moving our people into a level of capability and accountability that means that we can let go of being the expert. They need to become the expert, and it is your job to get them there. So you need to move them from a capability and accountability level of ‘Tell me what to do’, through ‘I think’ to, ‘I recommend’….which is where leaders operate.

capability and accountability

Your senior people need to be able to recommend a way forward. They need to be able to recommend a solution to a problem. They need to be able to recommend an approach or a strategy without having to rely on your expertise to make sure it is a complete piece of work.

Too many leaders spend too much time marking homework and not enough time leading. So you need to equip your people with the skills and the knowledge and the capability, and hand over accountability by trusting them to do the work.

How to develop a completed staff work approach 

You will probably need to help your people provide you with Completed Staff Work.

So once you’ve explained the concepts to them and reset the expectations, asking them these questions about their work is a great start:

✔️ Are you providing your best recommendation?
✔️ Do you have sufficient evidence or support for your findings and recommendation?
✔️ Are you happy for this work to be presented to the CEO?
✔️ Have you answered all the likely key questions?
✔️ Is it something you would stake your professional reputation on?

If it is not, then it’s not Completed Staff Work.

Why use a Completed Staff Work approach?

There are a range of benefits to using a Completed Staff Work approach in your leadership. The biggest is that Completed Staff work is a structure to empower teams. A way of building capability and accountability.

I’d love to know your thoughts.

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AND: Whenever you’re ready… here are 4 ways I can help you grow your coaching and leadership: