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5 Questions to Support Accountability

Here at InteraWorks, we’ve defined four conditions that must exist for an individual, team or organization to be effective within the arena of performance and development. The four conditions are:





Each quarter we will highlight one of these conditions and explore their attributes in our blog and via our Mastery Practices which are available to all alumni. This quarter we are highlighting the condition of Accountability. What is it? How do we create it and sustain it for ourselves and our organizations? Stay tuned as we Engage the Edges of Accountability!

A Short, Sad Story

This is a story about four people named





There was an important job to be done.

EVERYBODY was sure SOMEBODY would do it.

ANYBODY could have done it, but NOBODY did it.

SOMEBODY was angry about that because

it was EVERYBODY’S job.

EVERYBODY thought ANYBODY could do it.

NOBODY realized that EVERYBODY wouldn’t do it.

The story ends with EVERYBODY blaming SOMEBODY, after NOBODY did what ANYBODY could have done.

Sound all too familiar? Accountability has a lot of dimensions…but let’s start with the most important one first. What is it? Accountability means accepting responsibility for actions, decisions or results.

That’s pretty much it. It can be a little scary sometimes though, especially when the cultural tendency is to avoid responsibility. There is a little gremlin in most of us that tempts us to lean on reasons, excuses or justifications rather than simply taking responsibility, especially when things don’t turn out well. But accountability isn’t conditional based upon success. True accountability means accepting responsibility no matter what.

Have you ever been in a meeting designed to review progress against a strategy or a set of objectives when too many of the attendees provide reasons for failure instead of the results they promised?  Worse still, have you been in this kind of situation when no one questioned those who didn’t deliver? Someone who is accountable has the courage to tolerate the interpersonal discomfort of speaking up and talking about what’s happening – as well as what’s not happening. It doesn’t mean that we are blaming or judging one another; it simply is a statement of what is so.

In the early days of Best Year Yet, we led workshops, facilitated meetings and provided training. They were inspiring services and well received, but before long we realized that they were not quite as effective as we’d hoped. That’s when we made the strategic decision to lead the programs and include year-long coaching and follow up. Why? Because performance, thinking and culture cannot shift overnight. Accountability is a discipline and mindset that take time to develop, and people improve performance and development when they are supported to be accountable over a sufficient period so that new disciplines take hold and the results shift.

As we know, our thoughts and perceptions shape the results we achieve. The practice of accountability begins with our paradigm about delivering results. In order to practice the principle of Accountability, ask yourself and each other this powerful question:

“What are we getting?” – REASONS or RESULTS?

If you are getting the results you intended – great! But if you see that you are not getting the results you want and you have lapsed into the reasons why, make a correction as soon as possible. Ask the specific questions[1] below to help you get back on track.

  1. What’s already working? What are our strengths? Where are we successful?
  2. What specifically causes it to work?
  3. What is the outcome we want to achieve?
  4. What is the benefit to our organization/customer/you, in accomplishing these results?
  5. What specifically can we do more of, better or differently?
  6. Who will do what by when?
  7. How do we measure this?

Question 1 helps to remove the attention from the reasons, excuses and justifications and shift to a more accountable mindset. It also establishes a more positive energy for moving forward.

Question 2 provides a framework for learning and keeping what’s working.

Question 3 establishes the specific outcome criteria. Sometimes accountability is about setting a clear finish line in place.

Question 4 establishes the intrinsic and extrinsic motivations. It’s important to create a strong emotional connection to the outcome.

Question 5 creates a way to integrate the learning in moving forward AND creates a new specific accountability that is measurable. Notice that this framework isn’t about blaming, judging or making wrong. The intent and focus are about getting on track to deliver the results. Clarifying results and setting clear expectations is a powerful accountability tool and expands your ability to demonstrate a results focused mindset. Then learn to inspire others to do the same. The questions above are powerful, but non-threatening inquiries that enable you to avoid the temptation of using the blame game in a team which, as you can imagine, does little to build a culture of performance and accountability.

– Anne McGhee-Stinson, Managing Partner & Director of Practice, InteraWorks

[1] Adapted from Enlightened Leadership Getting to the Heart of Change Oakley / Krug