Crucial Accountability by Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny , Ron McMillan , Al Switzler

Big ideas:

  1. When someone behaves badly or breaks expectations/ promises, most people respond with silence or violence. There is a middle ground of driving accountability which not only improves the performance but also the relationship.
  2. The stronger the foundation of personal relationships, the easier it is to have accountability conversations. These are built by frequent and personal interactions. Just meeting people to have accountability conversations makes them see you as a “position”, and not a person.

Praise: Make praise such a common part of your personal style that when you enter into an accountability conversation, you have built a safe, trusting and respectful relationship.

  1. Praise others not just for big things, but also modest accomplishments, lack of problems. Set up time to observe and call out things gone right, and send a thoughtful, sincere and short note.
  2. Celebrate team successes as a team and individual successes in private to avoid resentment.
  3. Praise not just results, but also the right behaviors and processes.

Why People do what they do

Categories Motivation Ability
Personal Want to/ enjoyment Can do/ Capability
Social Peer pressure – Social reward/ punishment Help from others. Knowledge, resources, power sharing
Structural Carrots and sticks – Monetary, Opportunities – Rewards/ Punishments Systems and Tools – OKRs, Policies supporting/ prohibiting the desired behavior

BEFORE an Accountability conversation

No Amount of preparation will save a conversation unless approached with the right frame of mind.

What to Confront?

Problems are often a bundle of several problems. Reduce your problem statement to one sentence using the following:

  1. Think CPR:
    1. Content (what happened) – the first time
    2. Pattern – next time
    3. Relationship – how is it affecting the relationships as the problem continues
  2. Unbundle the violation using consequences and intent. Make a list of potential issues.
  3. Prioritize the most important issue based on what you want for yourself, others and the relationship.

If to Confront

  1. If it is a clearly broken promise
  2. Ambiguous situations:
    1. If you are acting out your concerns (passive aggressiveness)
    2. If your conscience is nagging you
    3. If you are choosing the certainty of silence over the risk of speaking up because it will be painful
    4. If you are telling yourself that you are helpless because someone is impossible to talk to

Differentiate yourself: If you are changing status quo, call it out in a way which is not smug. Be respectful of different styles and ways of doing things. This is respecting diversity.

  • “I am going to ask you to do something even if others do not”.

Master your stories

  • Assume good intent – Why would a reasonable and good person do that?
  • Root Cause Analysis: Consider the 6 sources of influence and try to understand the cause.
  • Imagine what they might wrongly conclude and get hurt/ defensive and use that for contrasting.

DURING the Conversation

    • Establish common purpose and goal – I would like to come up with a common method we are all aligned with.
  • Ask for permission – Is that okay with you?
  • Always hold accountability conversations in private.

Describe the Gap

  • What was expected and what happened?
    • Situation (make it fact based)
    • Behavior – You said to I thought we agreed
    • Impact – What was the impact of behavior
  • What not to do: Sandwich technique, Non verbal cues (looking at watch when someone is late), being a good cop making others the bad cops, playing “guess what is on my mind” games.
  • Create safety:
    • People feel unsafe when: 1) you don’t respect/ value them as human beings. 2) You dont care about their goals. If they know that you value them and care about their interests, you will get an amazing amount of leeway.
    • At the first sign of fear, diagnose if they feel disrespected or you are at cross purposes.
    • For respect, think about the rest of the story. It will show in your tone and delivery. Use Contrasting if they are getting silent/ violent ( Please understand I am not implying x, I want us to be able to do y. I am not saying that I disagree with x).
    • End with a question: Am I missing something? What happened?

Next Steps:

Make it Motivating – help them want to take action

  • Motivation is not arm flailing speeches to cheering crowds, raw power/ force (causes resentment, resistance) or clever tricks to make want to do what you want them to do. It has little to do with clout or charisma, and is instead about changing others’ views of the consequences and the right behavior follows.
  • Motivation: You show them the consequences by two methods 1) Connecting the actions to their goals (the WHY) 2) Show the impact of their actions on other people and stakeholders. When they comply and agree with you, stop explaining and pushing further.
  • Discipline: If motivating doesnt work, use discipline (force). Not in a smug, but a somber way. You are moving from leading or partnering to policing, which is not a cause to celebrate. Don’t back off under pressure or you will get a reputation of making hollow threats.
  • Coping: If you can’t use discipline (senior stakeholders), create a coping strategy (leaving when they get angry and talking later) and be candid about it. Otherwise you are enabling their behavior with silence.

Make it easy – almost painless

  • Problem solve together – Make doing the right thing easy by jointly working on barriers on getting it done. Avoid quick advice and invite partnership – What do you think will take to fix this? Let us figure it out and problem solve together. What do you think?. Work as intellectual equals. Leaders earn their keep not by knowing everything but bringing the best out of their team for common goals. Confident leaders are very comfortable saying – I don’t know, what do you think?
  • Solution
    • Is this sustainable?
    • Do others also face this?
    • Have we identified all root causes? Japanese execs ask their leaders to use the 5 Why method.

Stay focused and flexible

  • Note and acknowledge any new problems that come up.
  • Select the right problem to work on and work on one problem at a time.
  • If someone uses – something came up – as a reason, dive into it to ensure it is not repeated.

AFTER the Conversation

Agree on a plan and follow up:

  • Who does What, by When? – Make sure the what is clearly understood.
  • Have the right and agreed upon method of follow up. Candidly talk about the follow up methods.
  • Follow up, if things don’t go well, have a new accountability conversation.