New leaders often find themselves confronted with the task of holding others accountable for the first time. Having that first accountability conversation is never an easy task. You’re dealing with people who have different work styles, core values, backgrounds, and expectations. If everyone doesn’t align with the current accountability culture, they can get very confused very quickly.
One of my favorite books related to accountability is titled Crucial Accountability by Vital Smarts. And one of the best themes that they cover is related to solving the right problem when you hold others accountable. Let’s face it, many of us are flying by the seat of our pants when we jump into the deep end of the leadership pool. We don’t even realize that there’s a possibility of more than one problem to address. So, let’s break this down so you can fully understand the next time you have to have one of those conversations with your team member.
The Accountability Agreement
Before we talk about which problem you’re going to solve, first ensure you’ve completed the accountability process’s first steps. We are assuming
- the expectations were made clear,
- there was a due date associated with those expectations, and
- the team member agrees to the request and defined success.
In other words, the team member made a promise. If you didn’t have those elements in place, then that’s your starting point. As leaders, we often don’t realize that we haven’t clearly described the successful outcome. We sometimes give ambiguous instructions with no due date and are surprised that we get less than stellar results.
So assuming you’ve checked all of those boxes, let’s look at the other potential problems.
The Three Types of Problems to Address
In the book Crucial Accountability, they provide a CPR model, which stands for Content, Pattern, and Relationship. The premise is that depending on the frequency of broken promises; one would prepare for the accountability conversation in different ways. And to have a successful discussion, proper preparation is critical. If you’re a fan of Crucial Conversations (another book by Vital Smarts), then you’ll have additional tools you can use as well.
The First Time
The first time a promise is broken, it’s certainly permissible to address the situation’s content. Perhaps this is a single time event, and it can be handled quickly and remedied without much effort. It’s essential to use your crucial conversation tools and have that conversation with your team member. Your discussion needs to include
- a ‘sky is blue tone,’
- state the facts, and
- then ask for further information.
Let the team member explain what happened, the barriers, and how they plan to act differently in the future.
The Second Time
The second time a promise is broken, it’s a little trickier. Now instead of a one-time event, it’s happened at least twice, and it appears that it may be a pattern. Not only are you concerned that it’s a pattern, but you’re also worried that you and the team are being affected. Again, you can use your ‘sky is blue’ tone in this crucial conversation and state the facts. However, in this case, you’re also questioning their trustworthiness because of the emerging pattern. Hopefully, the team member will see this as a critical error and correct it to maintain their credibility. At least that’s what you are hoping.
The Third Time
The third broken promise indicates there is a real relationship issue. The team member let the team down, and they can’t be trusted to be true to their word. You’re starting to doubt if they are competent or if they know how to perform at the level of your request. Also, they appear to be breaking promises routinely, which affects how you interact with one another. Therefore, it is directly affecting their relationship with you and the team.
What Happens Next?
It’s always important to consider how holding others accountable affects the entire team. If people are not held responsible, you, as the leader, will pay the consequences. Your team will doubt your leadership; you’ll lose engagement and morale. Therefore, every team member must be held accountable in the same way. Accountability does not mean that people get fired when they make mistakes. What it means is that mistakes and errors are not swept under the rug and ignored. We don’t pat people on the back and say that’s OK, don’t worry about it. Instead, we have an accountability conversation with them. It doesn’t have to be complicated or unpleasant.
Once you’ve adequately prepared for one of the three conversations above, ask yourself the following three questions:
1. What do I want for my team member?
Are you focused on their success and development?
What do you want them to walk away with?
How do you want them to feel after the conversation?
2. What do I want for myself?
How do you need to develop as a leader?
Who do you have to be to have a successful conversation with your team member?
What do you want to walk away with?
How do you want to feel after this conversation?
3. What do I want for the organization?
When considering the organization, what benefit do you want to create from this conversation?
How might you align the benefit to the organization with the success of your team member?
Keep these answers in mind as you prepare and execute the accountability conversation with your team member. If you are both focused on the individual’s success, the team, and the organization, then the conversation is much easier to have and won’t likely become defensive.
For more tips on accountability discussions and crucial conversations, check out these additional blogs.
In honor of our 15th anniversary in 2021, Core Impact Coaching is preparing a course on how to
“Be an Accountability Leader.”
Sign up for our newsletter to receive more information about preferred pricing available only to our followers in 2020.