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  • Vanessa Barajas, MPH

The Accountability Dial

Updated: Nov 16, 2022

The Accountability Dial is a framework for how to challenge your team by asking thought-provoking questions instead of giving one-off solutions and advice. We’ve learned growing up that what makes us a value to others is our ability to have the answer or to give advice, but what we may not realize is how disempowering that process is. Even when we bring in creative, smart, and thoughtful people into our organizations what we tend to do is default to this way of talking with one another in the workplace where we are quick with answers. We may be quick to say “do this” or “don’t do that” or “try this” - now we’ve lost the art of asking great questions and that’s where the accountability dial comes in to help us get back to asking those necessary questions.


There are a lot of things you can talk about when giving feedback. It can be positive (encouraging an employee to grow into a bigger role) or negative (changing a problematic behavior). The way to create personal ownership is by breaking down the conversation by providing structure so rather than waiting and having a half an hour conversation with lots of feedback in a hard to digest format, the accountability dial is a way to break out an accountability conversation over time and over multiple conversations. The key thing to take away from this is that great accountability is not punitive. Great accountability turns people back to themselves and gives them the data that shows them what they need to work on and then gives them the choice to work on it. You’re there as support.


Giving direct feedback may not always be the greatest approach because it has an implicit assumption that you know the answer and they don’t (which isn’t necessarily true). Additionally, when we are always available providing answers and advice freely, we disempower the people around us even when it’s not our intention to. They aren’t given the opportunity for personal development. Instead of telling your team what to do, pose a question - “I’m not sure, what are your ideas for that?” If you have been giving advice often, it’s best to ease off of it slowly and not cut off your team cold turkey, especially with more complex projects or situations.


The Accountability Dial was created by Johnathon Raymond to solve two problems:

  1. Feedback that is too intense, too early

  2. Boundaries that are too soft, too late


When feedback is delivered too early and too intensely in a short period of time, people tend to shut down and get defensive. On the opposite side of this is when a problematic behavior has been identified and there have already been conversations where they have said they want to work on it, but we allow the behavior to persist for months or even years. And they will continue that behavior because they know there’s no consequence. Of course you offer chances for them to change their behavior but there must be a point when they do need to meet those changes and with firm consequences if they don’t meet those changes.


The Accountability Dial Steps:

  • The Mention: Pull them aside to tell them something you’re noticing as close to real-time as possible.

  • The Invitation: Give them two or three examples of how this behavior is a pattern or theme that they can work on.

  • The Conversation: Use your weekly meeting to unpack the issue. Guide them to see how this pattern is holding them back from their personal goals.

  • The Boundary: Make an agreement about what needs to change, by when, and the concrete actions they’re committed to taking.

  • The Limit: Before you give up, have one more heart-to-heart talk that it’s their final chance to make a meaningful breakthrough.


The Mention

If you are not able to pull someone aside in real time, it can be an hour later but you don’t want to sleep on it. It’s best if you talk to them the same day. It can take no more than five seconds. It’s a short question about something you’ve observed (or have a hunch about) as soon as you observe it. There’s no harm in mentioning something and it can be positive or negative. It lets people know you see them and what they are doing.


Examples:

“I noticed a few typos in that report you drafted. Did you catch those?”

“Hey, that was a great email you sent to the client just now.”

“That seems like something you could approve of on your own, no?”

“You seemed annoyed at this morning’s meeting. Everything okay?”


The Invitation:

This is when you try to help your colleague make the connection between isolated events and it gives them a pattern they can get traction on. It trains them to learn the skill of seeing patterns in other areas too. It might require you to be transparent and vulnerable, but it gets people thinking about following through on the details. This communicates that the little things matter in your organization.


Examples:

“I saw a few typos in the memo to the sales team as well. I’m getting worried, can you stop by and let me know how you’re going to get on top of this?”

“You’ve been on a roll lately with new client outreach – would love to learn more about your approach.”

“I didn’t hear anything further about that report. It left me wondering what our process is there …”


The Conversation

This is your chance to help this person shift their focus away from their intentions and excuses so they realize the objective, and observable impacts of their behavior. It helps them recognize how they are affecting other people. Remember this conversation is led by questions, not statements. This also includes multiple conversations over time, not one long conversation.


The Boundary and The Limit

This happens after the person has agreed to change and you’re still not punitive. The framing behind this is that, as human beings, we all need to either move through meaningful changes or decide we’re not up for the challenge. Setting the limit will likely be uncomfortable for you and them, but it’s crucial to set clear expectations to help the person be successful.


It takes regular feedback, coaching, and probing questions to bring out your team’s inner ownership. You can utilize this framework for having difficult conversations in order to guide your team members to take greater personal accountability of their roles.


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