When to Have an Accountability Conversation and How

December 11, 2019 | Roger and Susie Engelau

Deciding if and when to have an accountability conversation with a team member is crucial in your small-mid size business. And once you decide to have an accountability conversation, there’s a process you can follow that will make it easier… even natural and uplifting.

  • As the owner of your small business, should you say something to the employee who’s 10 minutes late once a week? or not?
  • What about your salesperson who hasn’t met goal for 3 months straight? How long do you wait before addressing it?
  • What if it’s your own son (or Dad or sister) who’s missed the same deadline again?
  • If you’ve already mentioned the confusing communications from your operations manager twice and the sales staff are still baffled by operations’ messages, do you ignore it or is it time to have that tough this-is-a-pattern talk?
  • Do you ever get so fed up that you blow up? Do team members?

There isn’t one among us who hasn’t put off or avoided a tough conversation that stems from an unmet expectation. You wonder if your zone of tolerance is too small or too large or maybe you just don’t know how to say what needs to be said in a way that will leave your team member feeling good.

Here are a few nuggets from the book Crucial Accountability to help you decide whether you SHOULD speak up, how to get in the best mindset for it, and how to navigate the accountability conversation:

Before an accountability conversation
  • To determine if you SHOULD have the accountability conversation, if there’s a clearly broken promise or if negative business consequences will result if you don’t, you should have the accountability conversation. When the behavior is ambiguous or subtle, ask yourself if you’re not speaking up when you should. If you’re behaving in a way that shows that you’re concerned or upset, if it keeps nagging at your thoughts, or if you’re choosing silence because it’s easier, you should probably have the accountability conversation.
  • Think through the issue and distill it into one sentence. Taking longer than that to get to the point rarely makes the issue more understandable.
  • Get in the right mindset. The climate is set in the first 30 seconds. Before you blurt something blameful and disrespectful like, “What were you thinking?!” resolve to be curious before you become angry. Your team member can and should leave the accountability conversation with his/er self-esteem more intact than before the conversation. Avoid the usual assumption that the person did what they did because of a flaw in their makeup, a phenomenon known as the fundamental attribution error. Instead of asking “what’s wrong with this person?” ask “why would a reasonable, rational, and decent person do that?”
During an accountability conversation
  • Speak in private. Don’t address the issue in front of others OR address an entire group when it’s really one individual’s issue.
  • Ask permission. “Would you mind if we talked about…” “If it’s OK with you, I’d like to discuss…”
  • Start by establishing a sense of mutual respect. Build common ground.
  • Launch into the topic by describing the behavior as a gap instead of a violation. See our blogpost on the 4 steps of Giving Constructive Feedback. Step 1 is “Start with your observation of the events. This is an easy way to start because there’s nothing judgmental or personal; it’s just a statement of the facts. “Linda, in that meeting we just left, I noticed that you interrupted Bob 3 times.” Use specifics like dates, times, and frequencies when you can.
  • Think of the accountability conversation as telling a complete story or an exploration instead of thinking “I have to show this person what they did wrong.”
  • If your team member becomes defensive, step out of the content and rebuild a sense of respect.
  • End with a question, “What happened?” “What are your thoughts (or feelings)?”

When team members see leaders having accountability conversations, they begin to have them too. The ultimate goal in creating a culture of accountability is when your team members are having accountability conversations among themselves! Pat Lencioni, in his book The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, defines accountability as “the willingness of team members to remind one another when they’re not living up to standards.” Evenutally, it’ll be rare that you as the leader have to have the accountability conversation!

Creating an accountability culture starts with being specific about what the expectations are—who’s doing what by when, then establishing a routine of reporting against those goals. Use your 90-Day Action plan as your planning tool, then use it in your weekly meetings to make sure people are on track.

In our January 2020 Growth Plan Workshop, in addition to creating your 1-Page Business Plan and your 90-Day Action Plan, we’ll take an hour to do a deeper dive into the tactics in the book, Crucial Accountability.

Plan to join me, our other expert business coaches, and like-minded business owners at our January 9, 2020 Growth Plan Workshop.

Our coaches will spend one-on-one time with you, ask you the right questions, and give you the advice you need to walk away with a completed 1-page Business Plan and a 90-day Action Plan.

Register here for the next Growth Plan Workshop.
Thur., Jan. 9, 2019, 9 – 3 pm              
Holiday Inn Indianapolis Airport, 8555 Stansted Dr, Indianapolis, IN 46241

You’ll walk away with:

  • A clear picture of where you want your business to be in 10-30 years, a 3-5 year plan, and your 12-month goals broken into bite-size quarterly goals
  • A 90-day Action Plan with monthly milestones and weekly actions that also serves as your team’s accountability plan
  • Strategies to build your profits

Achieving a culture of accountability includes setting performance goals, establishing regular meetings to monitor progress, and having accountability conversations along the way. Once accountability becomes part of your culture, performance, and profits, will be at their all-time high.