How Accountability Actually Happens Part II

Steve August
October 12, 2020
Real-Life Leadership
5 Rules for Rocket Ships

Last week, I dove into a topic that’s top of mind for a lot of the Founders I’ve been coaching:  how to create a culture of accountability.

It’s one of the most fundamental qualities of a successful company, but nobody teaches Founders how accountability actually works.

It’s one of the key components of the 4th Rule for Rocket Ships:  Real-Life Leadership.

In Part I of this series, I shared the secret of creating accountability. People think accountability is either all about cracking the whip or just hiring really smart people and giving them lots of space.

But neither of those models will create consistent results.

As I wrote in Part I, the actual secret to creating accountability is getting really serious about aligning expectations.

There is no accountability if people aren’t working from the same set of expectations. When everyone looks back at the end of the day, and they are trying to figure out what when wrong, it usually comes out that they were working from different sets of expectations.

I wrote about how according to Roger Connors and Tom Smith, authors of “How Did That Happen?”, there are four key steps to getting aligned on expectations: Form, Communicate, Align, and Inspect.

If you make these four steps a part of every initiative, you have set a solid foundation for creating accountability.

But even with these four steps, sometimes you get to the end of a milestone or initiative, and things haven’t gone the way you expected.

That’s when an Accountability Conversation happens. When people hear the term accountability conversation, they think of coming down hard and cracking the whip.

But really according to Roger Connors and Tom Smith, there’s a pretty specific way to go about an accountability conversation.

If the outer ring of accountability is all about aligning expectations, the inner ring of the accountability conversation is all about systematically understanding what went wrong. They offer four areas that need to be sussed out:

  1. Motivation - is the person properly internally or externally motivated?
  2. Training - was the person provided the knowledge and skills to pull it off?
  3. Culture - does the overall culture support or detract?
  4. Accountability - is this person willing to be accountable?

In having these conversations, it is important to:

  1. Listen for Obstacles
  2. Identify obstacles you can influence and own
  3. Facilitate a solve-it conversation
  4. After the conversation, test to see if there’s been progress

When I was leading my first startup, accountability conversations were really uncomfortable for me. I wish I had this framework back then because it breaks down the elements of accountability into a pretty logical sequence of steps.  

When you and your company integrate these steps, you will have an amazing culture of accountability.

Until next time,


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