Accountability: Getting to “Why”

In this series we have been examining how to build an accountable culture.  This final post will focus on a myth around accountability and transforming our mindset to help get to motivation.

One of the biggest myths surrounding accountability is that people do not want to do something and that is the reason they are unaccountable.  So, in come the “carrot and the stick.”  We dangle rewards and promises of bonuses in front and follow up with threats of punishment if a goal isn’t met.

Great leaders approach accountability from the opposite mindset.  Instead of believing that people lack motivation, they operate from a belief that people want to do what is expected of them.  They want to be a contributing part of the team.

This belief completely shifts how we “do accountability.”  If our underlying belief is that the purpose of accountability is to ensure that everyone on the team succeeds together, you act differently.

Rather than a carrot and a stick, you create an environment that is high energy and optimistic.  You communicate to your team that you believe in each one of them.

Rather than setting up a competitive work environment, you establish a collaborative one in which the team succeeds together.

Can you imagine a conversation around accountability in an environment where the manager was vested in each team member’s success and where they were mutually vested in one another?

Employee: I need to let you know I am not going to make the deadline for this project.

Manager: Thanks for sharing that with me.  This is an important deadline; it impacts the whole team.  Why do you think you won’t make it?

Employee: I don’t have time to finish the project.  I’m stuck on Phase 3, and it’s taking a lot longer than I anticipated.

Manager: I know it wasn’t your intention to let the team down and that you want to make this deadline.  I appreciate you letting me know so we can find a solution.  Why don’t you have time to finish it?

Employee: I had scheduled a trip to visit my in-laws long before I had this project, and it means the world to my wife so I can’t reschedule.  I guess I underestimated how much time the third phase of this project would take.  I’ve missed several of my smaller milestones because I don’t know how to do one part of the project, and now it’s snowballed so I am behind on the whole project.

Manager: I am glad that you are not going to reschedule your trip.  Family is important, and you are supporting your wife by loving her family well.  How can I help?

Employee: I think that I could get it finished if I wasn’t distracted by answering questions about the other project that is due in a few months.  I just need to focus.  I also need help knowing how to complete the part I am stuck on.

Manager: Let me talk to the team.  I’ll ask them to take their questions about the other project to me until further notice.  You focus on this project and making this deadline that is in front of us.  I’ll also ask another employee to make some time to help you with a couple of the milestones you are stuck on that overlap into their skillset.

Let’s check back in on Friday and see how you are feeling about the project.  We can’t shift the deadline, but I am committed to your success and the team’s success so want to do whatever I can to help you complete this project well and on time.

Do you feel that with these additional resources you could deliver the project on our original timeline?

Employee: Yes, I can do that.  Thank you for listening and providing help.

Manager: You’re welcome.  Thank you for letting me know early on in the process so that we could make these adjustments.

This manager believed the best about her staff member.  She chose to believe that he wanted to live up to her and the team’s expectations.

Instead of assuming that her employee was being lazy or didn’t want to follow the timeline, she believed the best.  She didn’t make an accusation.  She asked for an explanation and started from a place of trust.

She used questions to peel away layers to get to the root cause of the issue: lack of time and lack of skill to complete a certain task.

Then she made it a shared goal and committed to helping him succeed.  In the process, he recommitted to the project and was positively motivated to complete it according to the deadline.

Accountable cultures use shared responsibility and trust to motivate, not a carrot and stick.  By believing the best in one another and being committed to one another’s goals, a team builds a culture of shared success.

At HTG Peer Groups we put 10-12 business leaders together in high-trust, accountable peer groups to share best practices and help one another drive results.  If you are interested in learning more about joining an HTG group, visit our website at

2018-05-07T16:18:04+00:00 December 15th, 2016|Expedition: Leadership|0 Comments

About the Author:

Laurie Sorensen serves as a Learning Architect with HTG where she is energized by thinking, planning, speaking and writing on topics to help HTG members grow their leadership. One of the best aspects of her job is her role as a certified LifePlan facilitator who gets to walk with people on a journey of discovery as they unleash their purpose through guided perspective. Laurie is the author of the Planning for Success workbook which guides people through Business, Leadership, Life, and Legacy planning the HTG Way. She blends her intuitive ability to connect with people and her passion for HTG as she designs learning experiences that help people to grow personally and go home equipped to make a difference for others. Outside of work hours you can find Laurie spending time with international students or volunteering with Safe Families, a ministry that helps to stabilize families in need.

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