3 Steps to a More Accountable Team

In a perfect world, your staff would complete their work on time, more proactively communicate problems and potential obstacles, and produce more predictable results.

They would be more accountable.

But right here, right now in the real world, projects are late and over budget, customer promises remain unfulfilled, and careless mistakes cost time and money. Operating a business often seems harder than it should—because it is! 

I’ve never met a CEO or business leader who wasn’t concerned with loose accountability on their team, the symptoms of which can be quite painful. Here are just a few of the scenarios I’ve witnessed: Leaders unable to recall the objectives they set at their annual planning session, key customers not receiving deliveries as promised, and CEOs who maintain lists of the commitments made by others to ensure nothing is forgotten. The effects of loose accountability are costly, frustrating, demoralizing, and growth-killing.

These issues were the driving force behind my book Creating a Culture of Accountability, a handy guide for building a culture of crisp, rigorous, and systemic accountability within any organization. But what if you can’t afford to wait as you work through the three types of Accountability I feature in the book? For example, I encounter leaders every week with transactional accountability problems–issues associated with a specific person, project, or task–that require immediate action.

Here’s some good news: There is a straightforward, standalone three-step system you can implement immediately. When you do it correctly, it has the potential to transform transactional accountability on your team while not consuming any additional resources or time.

Yes, you should buy my book. But if you must, you can get started here right away.

I’ve been using the three building blocks of accountability–expectations, context, and attention–to help business leaders gain traction via more accountable staff for years.

Now you can use them too.

No alt text provided for this image

Step 1: Expectations

“When we expect certain behaviors of others, we are likely to act in ways that make the expected behavior more likely to occur.”

– Robert Rosenthal

An expectation is a belief that is expressed either verbally or through actions. Expectations drive outcomes. 

Research backs this up, particularly psychologist Robert Rosenthal’s work with what is more popularly known as “The Pygmalion Effect”. Rosenthal selected elementary school students at random and informed teachers these students had particularly high potential. Lo and behold, the “high potential” students outperformed their peers at the end of the academic year. The explanation for their success? Teachers believed the students were talented, treated them accordingly, and the students met their expectations.

Rosenthal’s findings transfer to the business world as well. This Harvard Business Review article points to studies of company performance that confirm expectations in work settings also become self-fulfilling prophecies. 

Accordingly, it stands to reason that leaders should have high expectations of their people, including the belief that employees possess the capacity to deliver what is asked of them.

The question is: Do you?

If you don’t, you might have some people on your team who don’t belong. Or, you might have the right people in roles that don’t play to their strengths. Remember: you’re accountable to get the right people in the right seats (RPRS) on your team! For more on how to do that, have a look at my article on getting the right people in the right roles.

Assuming you have RPRS and you believe in your team, you must express it to them. When you delegate a task or assign a project, the first step to building accountability is to communicate your belief in their ability to meet your high expectations. The simplest way to say this is “I believe in you.”

If that feels too “soft” or uncomfortable for you, that’s ok. Here are some other real-world phrases that convey the same message:

I know this project is a stretch, but you’re more than capable of meeting the challenge–and rest assured, I’ll support you along the way.

I wouldn’t be asking you to do this if I didn’t believe you’d be successful. In fact, I have a feeling you’re going to do really well!

I have no doubt you’re ready to take this on.

A word of caution: don’t express your belief if you don’t mean it. Beyond the words, mannerisms and actions also transmit expectations, and it’s relatively easy for people to see through non-authentic expressions of belief.

Building Block #1: Communicate your belief in them. “I believe in you.”

Step 2: Context

“For me, context is the key—from that comes the understanding of everything.”

– Kenneth Noland

It’s intuitive to think about and ask what, who, and how questions as you lead, delegate to, and manage your team. For example:

  • What do we need to accomplish?
  • Who is best suited to complete the task?
  • How should they start and proceed over time?

But I’ve found leaders seldom think or communicate about WHY.

Context is a critical component of accountability because it provides important information that helps your team appreciate the bigger picture beyond the work on their desk. Well-thought context answers the following questions:

  • Why does this role / assignment / project / task matter to the firm?
  • Why does this role / assignment / project / task matter to the division, group, or team?
  • Why does it matter to YOU, the leader, personally?

Research into the root causes of employee engagement consistently suggests that a sense of purpose is one of three key factors (the other two are autonomy and mastery). In other words, knowing why something matters—matters a lot. When you relay the context of a task or request, you are being clear that it’s important to you. Don’t ever assume your team already knows. Just because it’s important in your mind doesn’t mean it’s important in theirs!

Be explicit about sharing the context of your request to underscore why it matters to the business and to you. When assigning a task to a team member, share the context after setting the expectation. 

Building Block #1: Communicate your belief in them. “I believe in you.”

Building Block #2: Explain the context of the assignment. “This is important because…”

Step 3: Attention

“Where attention goes, energy flows”

– James Redfield

My client struggled for years to consistently achieve the monthly Key Performance Indicator (KPI) at the core of his business model—specifically, client billable hours worked. The leadership team believed they were accountable for staff compliance with their individual client billable hour targets. As such, they produced lists of employees whose hours were below expectations and lists of others who weren’t inputting their billable hours in a timely manner. Though their intentions were good, all of these actions occurred after the fact—effectively looking back at the previous month, after it was too late to recover the hours and revenue for the period.

After listening and understanding their situation, I asked one question: “Who should be accountable for client billable hours?”

Sensing I asked this for a reason—and after a leadership team member replied “we are”—another team member hesitatingly suggested that each staff member should be accountable.

“Exactly!” I replied. “And assuming they are accountable, how can you bring real-time attention to their accountability, effectively letting them know you are watching?”

After some debate, the leadership team agreed to require each staff member to report progress against their weekly billable hour goal verbally in their daily huddle.

Through this simple process, the leadership team is crystal clear about their attention to this KPI. And, if you think about it from a staff perspective, reporting your personal metric on a daily basis is the ultimate bar-raising move. After all, no one wants to be the person who reports a zero-progress day!

Leaders with highly accountable teams pay close attention to results and actively impart “I am watching” to their teams through words, actions, and processes. Your number one job as a leader is to point to what matters most, which is exactly what paying attention does.

I occasionally get push-back with this step in the accountability process because leaders think “I am watching” is too Big Brother or micro-managerial. The point, though, is not to become overbearing. It’s to reinforce the timeline, the importance, and the expectations. By paying attention, you’re doubling down on the why of the task or goal.

Although attention might seem like the most difficult step to implement because it’s more abstract and ongoing than the first two steps, it doesn’t have to be. Paying attention can look like a repeatable process like my client implemented above, or it can be a three-minute sync each week. Here’s one of my personal favorites: Ask a question while passing someone in the hallway—”How’s that report coming along? I’ll have it on my desk by noon Thursday, right?” And keep on walking!

Building Block #1: Communicate your belief in them. “I believe in you.”

Building Block #2: Explain the context of the assignment. “This is important because…”

Building Block #3: Ensure they know you are paying attention. “I am watching.”


“Accountability is the glue that ties commitment to the result.” 

– Bob Proctor

The odds are overwhelming that you have an accountability problem in your firm, your division, your department, your group, or your team. One way or another, it’s slowing you down, costing you money, and decreasing the engagement of your staff.

While creating a culture of accountability is the best, long-term solution, it doesn’t necessarily have to be your first step. You can begin today by implementing the three building blocks of accountability. This three-step process won’t cost you anything and barely takes any time at all, yet yields massive potential returns.

Establish clear, high expectations (I believe in you), thoroughly explain the context (This is important to me), and then pay attention over time (I am watching). When you do this well and consistently, the benefits will come quickly and with great effect.

With these three steps, you’ll be well on your way to achieving levels of productivity you once thought existed only in a perfect world. 

Once it’s working for you, please consider sharing the process with others. You’ll be doing your part to help solve the costly, frustrating accountability headache for other leaders around the world.


Live Online Class – Create Independent, Empowered Employees

Imagine how great it would be if your employees were more independent, better decision makers, and did the “right things” more often without needing much guidance. Although we intuitively know that these attributes eliminate countless leadership headaches and set the stage to create scale, it’s shockingly easy to elicit the exact opposite behaviors from your team.

In this program you will:

  • Identify the three research-based keys to creating highly engaged employees.
  • Learn how to overcome the #1 obstacle to clear communication and understanding.
  • Discover how to raise your expectations while creating more engagement and independence on your team
  • Improve your capabilities as a coach to accelerate your team’s growth and capacity.  

Upcoming Classes:    


More Options to Accelerate Your Leadership Growth and Success…

Please follow and like us: