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How to hold people accountable

Leaders struggle to hold people accountable because they don't get clear commitments.

Why it matters: The ability to have effective commitment conversations depends on our capacity to have tough conversations that end in disagreement or conflict.


The Big Picture: Too often, we hold people accountable to our expectations rather than their commitments.

  • Even clear expectations are not real commitments, even when these expectations make total sense.

  • The higher the expectations, the higher the disappointments.

  • Expectations are wishful thinking because they are one-sided.

  • Commitments convert expectations into contracts, which we can count on to hold people accountable.

The bottom line: 

There is no accountability without commitment.

Team Story: 

I coached a leadership team surprised by their low accountability survey score.

We role-played commitment and accountability conversations, and they struggled to get clear commitments because people just avoided the question.

The most common reason was that they depended on other people's commitments to deliver their own commitments.

It's like a chain reaction of no commitment that gets in the way of accountability.

Accountability conversation is easy if we have a commitment conversation. 

Two Conversations:

  • Commitment conversation is one we ask, "Are you committed to do X by Y?".

  •  An accountability conversation is one we confront the other person about the execution of the commitment.

Asking for commitment is the hard one (maybe even risky) because people might:

  • make conditions

  • bring up contingencies

  • disagree with the direction

  • ask for your commitment before they commit

Take Action

You convert expectations into commitments when you hear, "I commit to do X by Y." Other replies are in the gray zone.

  • Don't let people off the hook before you receive a clear commitment

  • "Yes" is not a commitment. Yes, what?

  • Create a commitment-accountably culture in your team

  • If commitment conversation is too difficult, upgrade your leadership potential

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