Lack of Accountability in the Workplace? Maybe You Need An Accountability Conversation.

Accountability is one of those buzz words that gets thrown around. We want our team to be accountable, we like to believe we are accountable. But what happens when we aren’t? What happens when they don’t? How do you bring accountability to the team, how do you balance accountability without being an ogre coming down on the team like a ton of bricks?

Shrek & an Accountability conversation

Having an Accountability Conversation with your team doesn’t need to be a horrible, destructive experience. By holding your team accountable, they are clear on what is expected, they know what to do, and what will happen if they don’t.

Follow these 10 easy steps on how to have an Accountability Conversation with your team, life partner or even yourself.

Before you begin, ensure you’re clear

Emotional charge

Clear as in an emotional sense. Do you hold a charge, or energy or an emotion. Another way to think of this step is – “What do you want from this conversation?” Do you want to:

  • get even
  • force them to see the error of their ways
  • just emotionally unload on someone

These are classic examples of holding an emotional charge (being unclear). Any sort of charge will guarantee the failure of this process. At best, you’ll come across as a bully. At worse, its just a nasty, controlling horrible experience for all. You’ll have ruined trust and any future on working together in a successful, constructive manner.

If you’re still unsure, we have a 4-step process on how to get clear.

Get clear!

What was the agreement?

This sounds simple, but its critical. What was the actual “thing” that was meant to be done?

I was meant to finish the document and email it to you by Tuesday

Is a great example. Its specific (finish the document and email) and its time based (by Tuesday).

I’m trying to improve my diet by not eating junk food

These types of agreements are difficult and are setup to fail. Try restating the agreement to something black & white. A better agreement would be: I won’t eat junk food today.

Did you keep the agreement?

This is a YES / NO question. Take your time. They might want to tell you a bit of story (Well, Jim was supposed to do XYZ and I told him I needed ABC first…)

Like a child that needs to run off some energy, give them the space to let them go for it. Let them exhaust themselves.

If you feel that it might be going to long (stay on point), simply restate the question – did you keep the agreement?

Do not proceed until you get a No.

If they have answered Yes, then there’s a misunderstanding on what the agreement is

What did you do instead / what did you make more important?

For most, first time they are asked this they will find it initially confusing. It can be helpful identifying unhelpful patterns or habits that don’t support you.

They must have done something instead (because the agreement wasn’t kept). What was it?

What type of person does this?

This isn’t time for a pity party. You’ll find some have a habit of flogging themselves. Be literal, and hold them accountable.

  • Only an idiot would do that
  • Someone stupid
  • A looser

Not only does this sort of comment not help, its not true. Are they really an idiot? ALL the time? I’d doubt it. If they were, why are they working for you?

You’re looking for words like lazy, distracted,

Is that the person you want to be?

A simple No is sufficient. You want them to acknowledge this and then move on.

How do we resolve this?

You want to make them responsible for what has happened and how to resolve this. What do they think? How can this be fixed?

What is the new agreement?

Do you have a new agreement? Be careful – don’t want set yourself (or them) up for failure. Frame the new agreement with SMART goals:

  • Specific – specifically, what is the new agreement?
  • Measurable – how will you know the task is done?
  • Achievable – make sure tangible progress can be demonstrated
  • Realistic – all things being equal, make sure the new agreement can be done
  • Timeframe – aligned with realistic, when will this be done?

What do you need? Do you require support?

Support can be a phone call, assistance or advice. Do NOT offer to rescue them by doing the task for them. This process is about clarity, leadership and inspiration. By taking over the task for them, you’re likely playing into an existing pattern of theirs

How do you feel? What did you learn from the process?

This process can be quite exhausting and confronting for some. So its a great question to finish up on for reflection. Give them a moment to reflect. You might be surprised at the answer.

So next time, perhaps there was too much work piled up and no one could catch up before deadlines were missed? Or a misunderstanding of what was required? Or maybe they’re just new and didn’t know better yet.

Now you have a strategy and a plan on how you can run your own accountability process. Who will you run yours with?


Christian Payne is a technologist and entrepreneur with a passion for innovation. He has over 20 years of experience in engineering and product development across enterprise and consumer sectors. He has experience at both small start-ups and enterprise level generating +$2M per month. When he's not hard at work on his latest project, he spends his time involved in Men’s Support Groups, Leadership training and Mentoring.

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