Five Steps to Foster Accountability – Driving Down Decision Making, Problem Solving and Ownership

Kathy was doing her best to be calm, but her frustration was palpable. Robert, her Chief Sales Officer, was explaining that there was little chance his group was going to make the quarterly plan. He said, “Quite frankly the numbers were not attainable in the first place.” 

Kathy was furious. “You agreed to the numbers in our planning meeting! These were your commitments”, she retorted.

Robert was quiet and then stammered out some weak excuses and a commitment to try harder next time. 

When discussing this interaction, Kathy asked me a question I have heard from countless leaders.

“How do I get my people to be more accountable for results?”

Lack of accountability is one of the most common weaknesses within executive and leadership teams. It is necessary at all levels of the hierarchy. The CEO cannot be accountable to the board if she does not have an executive team who cannot only be accountable but also capable of driving accountability down to the appropriate individual. When accountability happens, decisions are made faster, problems are solved faster, and ownership can happen at the front line. This is a key ingredient in the recipe for scaling your business.

Roger Connor, co author of the “The Oz Principle – Getting Results Through Accountability” defines accountability as “…a personal choice to rise above one’s circumstances and demonstrate the ownership necessary for achieving the result.”

Notice the focus is on results not activities. When accountable, you are responsible for generating a result. Another distinction is the focus on “personal choice”. Accountability is difficult to mandate. Accountability happens when you make the choice to commit to specific results.

What can you do to foster accountability? Start by mastering these five steps.


Make sure there is clarity around expectations. An individual must understand how victory will be declared. Ideally this is a metric that is not subjective. This could be personally in a functional role or as a team. Keep in mind the goal does not have to come from you. The more skilled your people are, the more ideas and strategies should be coming from them. Ask each team member what numbers they need to hit to win the period and make sure their answer aligns with yours.

Pro Tip: 

Ask each team member to submit their top 3 accountabilities for the upcoming quarter and compare their answer to yours. Replace “my title is…” with “I am accountable for….”

Ensure buy-in

When a team member has bought into the goal, they are willing to put the physical, mental, and emotional energy necessary into accomplishing the goal. Feel free to utilize the following question: On a scale of one to ten, how bought-in are you to the goal for the quarter? If your score is less than a ten, how can I get you to a 10? This question, and the discussions that follow, will force them to think more deeply about the goal and evaluate how the goal can be accomplished. This ensures they believe it is realistic and they are clear on the goal.

On a scale of one to ten, how committed are you to giving the physical, mental and emotional energy necessary to achieving this goal? If your score is less than a ten, how can you get yourself to a 10?

Ask for the plan to achieve the goal

Look for key milestones as well as weekly activities.

“The secret of your success is found in your daily routine.” ~ John Maxwell

The plan should be so clear that at the end of each week the accountable person can answer the following questions:

  • Did you have a good week or bad week? These should tie to performance against their weekly activity goals or milestones.
  • Are you on-track or off-track with your goals? This encourages a reforecast based on changing circumstances. If the answer is off-track, ask for their plan to get it back on-track.
  • How is your performance trending? Is performance trending up or is it trending down?

Keep ownership where it belongs

Do not take ownership of problems. Accountability for delivering results and solving the inevitable problems along the way should not be moved up the chain of command. Additionally, resist the urge to be chief problem solver. Instead provide open, honest, and ongoing feedback. The feedback can go both ways; it’s good to ask if there is something you can do to be more helpful as long as you do not inadvertently take ownership. Utilize the intentional conversation outlined below and the collective wisdom of your entire team during your weekly and monthly meetings to problem solve and overcome challenges.

Your job is to get the right people, executing the right processes, in the right environment to succeed. If a person is not achieving goals, ask the following:

  • Do I have the right person?
  • Are they executing the right process? 
  • Do they have the tools, resources, and capacity to win?
  • Do we have an inspiring environment that brings out the best in everyone?

Create clear consequences

If you have created clarity around expectations, ensured buy-in, managed this person to their plan, and kept the ownership with the individual and the results have not materialized, it is time to have an intentional conversation as outlined below. The purpose of this meeting is to create an open dialogue to help you remove barriers, develop the person, create a sense of urgency, and outline the consequences should performance not improve.

Mastering the Intentional Conversation

Shovel the pile while the pile is small. The best leaders have Intentional Conversations early and often. Have the discussion at the first sense that things are getting off course. Implement this simple tool and you’ll see your team commit earlier, perform at a higher level, and deliver better results.

  1. Intentional: It is best if the meeting is intentional. Don’t make it part of a regular meeting or a one-on-one. It’s best to call an intentional meeting and own the agenda.
  2. Start with the positive: Don’t jump right into what’s wrong. Start with two or three things that are authentic compliments.
  3. Transition into the issue: An open-ended transition that does not accuse the person of wrongdoing works best. Try this approach: “I just don’t feel like you’re bought into me or my vision. My goal today is to learn more about your perspective and leave us aligned and you completely bought in.”
  4. Listen: Listen to what they say and seek to understand their perspective. Take notes of the conversation to ensure your understanding.
  5. Summarize and Reflect: Summarize what you’ve heard and repeat it back. Once you’ve gained understanding, consider asking: “What would I need to do to get you fully on board with my vision (or your performance improved)?”
  6. Close and Gain Buy-In: Come to an agreement on next steps and the consequences if performance does not improve. Close the meeting with their buy-in.

When it is time to free them from this position

You should give grace, time, and resources to someone that is working hard, taking responsibility, and investing in their own development. Consider changing roles or firing a person when they stop working hard, taking responsibility, and investing in their own development. When someone is making excuses and blaming others, in most cases, it is time to move on.

“You get what you tolerate.” ~ Anthony Robbins

Accountability is not easy, however, it is necessary in a high performing organization. Mastering the five steps above, as well as the intentional conversation, will ensure you foster the accountability necessary to meet your goals and have fun doing it.

Ready to dig deeper into this topic? View the replay of my Accountability webinar and reach out if I can be a support for your team.

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