The "Accountability Dial"
I was just on a call with Jonathan Raymond and Dave Stachowiak, where they discussed “The Accountability Dial.” This is a tool and framework that holds people accountable without micromanaging. It allows for honest feedback beginning when the stakes are low. Without thoughtful accountability, your leadership and impact will be significantly diminished.
So often, we are avoiders, notice behavior or transgressions, yet put off the discussion until resentment, anger, and distrust take over. I acknowledge that many times these conversations feel difficult. Still, the ripple effect is often vast and disproportionate to the pain of an initial discussion. Imagine having the skill and confidence to address these occurrences in real-time. Additionally, you are setting a clear example for other colleagues.
Most people want insight, honesty, and transparency, yet, many leaders are unwilling to have difficult conversations in the spirit of supporting growth. It takes a strong and confident individual to invest in the success of another. These conversations are rooted in the belief that your colleague is worthy of more and deserves a partner who supports growth.
If you are brave and committed, here are some tools.
There are two skills needed:
The first is to separate your emotion from the behavior or topic. Very often, we make a difficult conversation about ourselves, we deny the other person honesty because of how it makes us feel. I urge you to shift your focus to purpose. You are hired to do a job, manage a process, or support an initiative. This is not personal. Without honesty and course correction, success will be dampened, and your team will suffer.
The second is Jonathan’s “Accountability Dial”: These are a series of 5 steps that, within the “context of personal caring,” slowly elevate the focus and intensity of the discussion. Avoidance is not your friend here! Start slow and early with gentleness and clarity while moving up the dial of intensity as needed.
Real-time feedback and the desire for accountability is a selfless act. We care enough about the success of the other that we are taking the time to address issues when they are small. It is from this perspective that these conversations should be framed. As Jonathan reminds us, “Growth comes from productive discomfort.” We need to be willing to ask not only more from others but also from ourselves.
The Mention: You have noticed a slight deviation from the initial agreement; this is a time to quickly and with an open-ended question or statement name the observation. “Sara, I noticed you showed up late for the meeting today, having you there on time is essential.” This statement raises Sara’s awareness and brings attention to her behavior without making it personal. You are supportive and simultaneously brought awareness.
The Invitation: This discussion integrates concrete examples and behavior you have observed. You are asking to realign expectations, clarify where the disconnect may occur, and ask for their insight and feedback. This is also a great time to offer support and brainstorm any barriers they are encountering. “Sara, I noticed you showed up late again today, is there something going on that I can support you with?”
The Conversation: This is a more focused 1:1 opportunity to discuss and review your previous conversations. You are not only pointing out the continued behavior but now integrating how this impacts other people and their experience and asking them to develop insight into its ripple effect. The repercussions are now coming into play, and the seriousness is increasing. Again, this is all said with kind firm clarity with the intent to support and mentor. “Sara, I am noticing a pattern of you arriving late for meetings, not only is this disruptive, but I am finding the team is losing focus and is having to repeat conversations once you arrive. I want to discuss how we can facilitate your timeliness.”
The Boundary: At this point, you need more heat. Acknowledge that although you have had previous discussions, the behavior still resides. It is time to discuss consequences and timelines. Again, ground this in service of advancement but also recognize that you and the team will not be successful without change. The cost of this behavior is hurting not only Sara but the team. “Sara, despite previous conversations, you continue to show up late; this is creating consequences that severely impact this team's success. This can not continue to happen. This is difficult to say, but if this happens again, I will take you off this team.”
The Limit: This final stage is not only acknowledgment of previous discussions but also an opportunity for the other person to step out gracefully. The role we have asked them to play often differs from their passion or skill. Again, this is not about the person but their ability to fulfill the need. This conversation clearly states that the gig is up without dramatic change or insight! “Sara, your behavior pattern has continued, and I can not support you being on this team any longer. You are a valuable member of our organization, but I will be moving you off this project.”
Avoiding these conversations in the beginning only buys you time, nothing else. Tensions mount, and then you find yourself at “The Boundary” or “The Limit”, stage. You have given no warnings, support, or mentorship, just a hammer. This strategy is an attack and blindsides the individual. Outstanding leadership is having the courage to discuss concerns when they are small.
Please remember you have these difficult conversations because you care deeply about the success and advancement of the other person. You stand in the fire of discomfort in service to another. It is from this perspective that all of these discussions begin.