4 Tools for Effective Accountability Conversations
Sooner or later, it happens to all of us in the workplace: Someone violates an expectation or core value, breaks a commitment they’ve made to you, or behaves unprofessionally. Often times, when this happens, we turn to silence because we believe that holding that person accountable for their actions is too dangerous. This could be because we have witnessed or experienced two ineffective options: (1) speaking up and creating a whole new problem or (2) perpetuating the problem by letting it continue without addressing it. We feel trapped between two bad alternatives. However, Crucial Accountability by Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, David Maxfield, Ron McMillan, and Al Switzler, teaches us that there are tools that help to improve the effectiveness of accountability discussions. Let’s explore some of them.
Start by Choosing What and If
First, determine what violation or behavior to address. Determining the right problem to address can be difficult. If you’re living a “Groundhog Day” (i.e. constantly discussing the same issue with someone over and over again), then you’re likely dealing with the wrong problem. To get to the right problem and right conversation, the authors of Crucial Accountability teach us to think CPR – this is an acronym for Content, Pattern, & Relationship. For example, let’s say that someone who works for you is twenty minutes late to work: content (an incident). You can talk about content and the natural consequences associated with it the first time that an issue arises. If this same individual has been late three times this week: talk pattern. If it continues beyond that point, the consequences are probably more severe. The issue will invariably become a trust issue: talk relationship and how the behaviors have caused you to lose trust in them and are now causing a strain on the relationship .
Next, you should decide whether the conversation should even happen. Should you speak up or go to silence? To determine if you’re wrongly going to silence, ask yourself” “Is my conscious nagging me?” “Am I choosing uncertainty over the risk of speaking up?” “Am I telling myself that I’m helpless?” Ask if your social system and culture will support your effort to speak up if you do. If you are committed to speak up to a person who has violated an expectation while others in your position have traditionally stayed silent, you can differentiate yourself by resetting expectations
Master your Stories and Emotions
If you’ve determined that an accountability discussion must happen and you know what you want to address, you then have to master your emotions. Rather than argue that others are misbehaving and violating your expectations of them because of personal characteristics and flaws in their character, look to that individual’s environment and ask what other sources of influence may be acting on that person. View the individual as a rational human being who has reasons for acting irrationally. Avoid trying to characterize them as a villain. The viscous stories that we tell ourselves lead us to jump to conclusions and make assumptions that can negatively color our verbal and non-verbal language in accountability discussions.
The reality is that even if we attempt to master our stories and emotions, the individual you’re speaking with may let their vicious stories enter their brain: they become emotionally charged or defensive because they feel that bad things are about to happen to them. They begin to feel “unsafe.” In order to help ensure safety in these situations, it’s important to establish a mutual purpose and build common ground before you even mention a problem. Let them know that your intentions are pure and that the goal is to make things better for the both of you. If an individual begins to get defensive or appears emotionally charged during an accountability discussion, recognize it and reset by stating what you did and did not mean (i.e. “I apologize, I did not mean to insinuate that you were doing it on purpose. I believe that you were unaware of the impact you were having, and that’s why I feel it is important to bring up.”)
The Follow Up: WWWF
One of the other vital tools that the authors described in Crucial Accountability was the significance of ending an accountability with a summary of the discussion and a complete action plan to address. WWWF is an acronym for Who will do What by When, and also involves a Follow Up by either checking in with the individual after a certain time frame or having them check back with you. If things didn’t go well or aren’t improving, it’s important to step up to the new accountability discussion. Moving to action and following up helps to ensure that commitments are met, and also ensures that you aren’t reliving that “GroundHog Day” that was mentioned earlier.
Arguably, you’re role in an organization should not be to settle problems or micromanage your team out of fear that addressing performance gaps would be too “dangerous”. It should be to create a team culture where both you, your peers, and your direct reports can address concerns immediately, directly and respectfully with each other. It’s an investment of time to prepare for these conversations; however, the return on investment happens quickly when you can regain that lost time and see problems solved both more effectively and efficiently.
Do you suffer from accountability issues in your organization? Exude provides training and development in the areas of coaching, managing performance, and harnessing the energy of conflict, all which contain tools for holding individuals more accountable. Contact us to learn more about how we can help you.
I also encourage anyone who is having difficulty with accountability in their organizations to pick up a copy of Crucial Accountability to learn more tools for having effective discussions that result in positive behavioral changes.