“I Will” Build A Culture of Accountability

One of the most common questions I receive as a business coach is some version of the following, “How do I instill a greater level of accountability in my team?” Company leaders want their team members to do what they say they’re going to do, when they say they’re going to do it.

Why is lack of accountability such a problem? One reason is that most leaders need to train themselves to listen for specific words and phrases that may indicate weak levels of commitment. That skill doesn’t always come naturally.

For better communication, leaders should follow these steps to identify areas of weakness and build a culture of accountability.

Assess the problems

Without a doubt, the first step to improve accountability is to assess if an organization has a problem. Leaders can do this by carefully listening to the language the team uses when communicating.

Do team members use specific terms, phrases and commitments that require them to be accountable for their actions? Or do they use nebulous and ambiguous terms that provide them an “out” for their commitments? And even more important, will leaders or other team members call out co-workers who use fuzzy or ill-defined statements?

One example of a statement that is both indecisive and unspecific is, “I’ll do my best to get you that report soon.” By stating that they will just do their “best,” they’re leaving themselves an excuse for not getting it done. It’s a tough truth, but leaders don’t need their “best,” they just need the report. Starting statements with “I will” is a great start to direct and clear commitments. For instance, it is a more accountable statement to say, “I will get you that report…”

Another problem that often goes unnoticed within the example above is that, even in addition to its ambiguity on commitment to completion, it’s not specific on date either. By stating the deadline as “soon,” the responsible team member is leaving the exact time frame up to interpretation. A more accountable statement would be “I’ll get you that report before noon on Friday.”

Eliminate ‘Weak Words’

At Petra Coach, “weak words” are what we call vague and ambiguous statements. With enough time and practice, it becomes easier to recognize and correct people when they use weak words. Some of the most common discussions we have with leaders include the following words along with suggestions to make them more accountable:

  1. Instead of accepting “try,” “attempt,” “strive,” “focus on” or “aim,” have team members use an “I will” statement.
  2. If team members use generic terms such as “more,” “increase,” “better,” “faster” or “bigger,” encourage them to use a specific number or goal.
  3. Likewise, if they fall back on “work harder,” “do more of” or “address,” leaders should call for team members to commit to specific activities.
  4. Deadlines that use “soon,” “ASAP,” “quickly” or “promptly” are not actual deadlines. Leaders should enforce the use of specific dates and times when it comes to tasks.

The subtle nuances in a team’s language indicate the organization’s commitment to accountability. Simply put, in a well-functioning environment of high-trust and accountability, weak words are not acceptable.

Teams with high levels of accountability always insist on specific and measurable statements, which include how each person communicates about goals, targets and commitments to one another.

To build a culture of accountability, identify the issues and remove weak words from your organization’s vocabulary. Don’t try. Just do it.