Changing how we approach and feel about accountability is possible. Changing how we motivate and inspire others to approach and feel about accountability is possible. But like all behavioral shifts, it’s important to understand how those shifts occur. All of our choices regarding how we behave ultimately derive from what we hold to be true. In other words, our beliefs and what we deem to be important, which is our values. Most behavior change and skill development occur because we perceive value in those behaviors and skills.

So, while you may already believe accountability is important, it’s possible to still develop a negative attitude around that belief if our experience attempting that behavior is consistently poor or difficult. Our mindset around accountability – or any behavior for that matter – is as much about how we engage in it, as it is when we’ve experienced when others have held us accountable. In other words, our experiences form our mindset—for better or worse.

Relationships vs. Results

A manager’s mindset is a reflection of what that specific person holds to be important, which is often a reflection of what’s reinforced within the organization as a cultural value. While employee engagement and wellness as priorities have been on the rise in the corporate world for many years now, at the end of the day there is still a driving focus on results, deliverables, and metrics. Ironically, focusing too much on these hard measures can derail efforts toward building a healthy accountability mindset in the workplace. Even though metrics and the ability to measure progress is important, poorly executed accountability conversations can make people feel unsafe, micromanaged, not trusted or worse incompetent. The key to accountability is to approach the conversation as a relationship, at a personal level.

Focusing primarily on business results removes the personal connection and fails to leverage the power of the human effort. It may sound too ideal to say that to get the best advantage, we need to look at the human beings who work within a business as having more than just a superficial relationship. But this is not a mere ideal. It’s also not new thinking. Those who work in human resources, organizational development, or other learning arms of their organizations know this already. They know that if the aim is to create a people-positive environment, to leverage human production, innovation, and willingness to go the extra mile on behalf of business results, then taking a relationships-first perspective is far and away more effective than a results-first approach.

Accountability Really Means Clear

When you approach accountability from a mindset of conflict, that’s the beginning of your problem. That mindset already has you preparing to be defensive. The conversation gets set up like you’re presenting a case and you have to substantiate the evidence and provide a long history of events all in an effort to keep the other person from feeling attacked. Whereas, when you take a relationships-first approach versus a results-first approach to accountability, you prepare based on how you connect to the person which is why it is so effective: but it requires a  shift of your accountability mindset.  Instead of looking at things through the lens of assigning or avoiding fault, when we reach for connection and to build relationships you find people are more open and willing to take ownership.

The relationship-first approach requires that you frame accountability from a contextual standpoint and with a focus on gaining clarity. This approach puts emphasis on the dynamic in which you and the other person come together to discover where things stand (results status/impacts) and who owns what. That stands in sharp contrast to the results-first approach, which is an outward push to parse what went wrong and why we didn’t get the outcome we wanted.

Ultimately, accountability is an essential piece of achieving success in – and out of – the workplace. Recognizing how we’ve viewed it and experienced it in the past will likely determine how we are incorporating accountability as managers today – whether effectively or not. However, we have the ability to change not only our mindsets, but the mindsets of those we lead with daily effort and practice.  Using a skill set that sets up the conversation for critical thinking and problem-solving can change the attitude, the beliefs, and even the neurochemistry of people who choose to stand in the moment of accountability.


Start having accountability conversations that solidify your relationships and rid your organization of drama. Get your copy of my book, Own Up!™ to start your journey today!