Category Archives: Crucial Accountability

Crucial Accountability QA

Q&A: Distracted Meetings?

Ron McMillan

Ron McMillan is coauthor of four New York Times bestsellers, Crucial Conversations, Crucial Accountability, Influencer, and Change Anything.


Crucial Conversations

Q Dear Crucial Skills,

I am getting incredibly frustrated by the various meetings I attend. I feel they are increasingly ineffective. Information that is shared is not understood and later attendees claim they were not aware of matters we discussed. In my opinion, technology is to blame. During the meetings, people are frequently checking their e-mails and texts and responding to them instead of paying attention. Am I just a dinosaur unwilling to get with the times, or are others being rude? What can be done?


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Crucial Accountability QA

Q&A: Holding Your Children Accountable

David Maxfield

David Maxfield is coauthor of three New York Times bestsellers, Crucial Accountability, Influencer, and Change Anything.


Crucial Conversations

Q Dear Crucial Skills,

I have a very hard time getting my children to do their chores. They often volunteer to help people outside of the house but, rarely make extra effort to help out at home. Growing up, my siblings and I saw what needed to be done around the house and just did it. My kids don’t seem to have any motivation to do anything. When asked to do a specific task, the normal response is to do the bare minimum (not always a good job at that) and not an iota more. While I’m sure it’s my fault that they are this way, I don’t know where to start to change things. Help!


Last Straw

A Dear Last Straw,

Thanks for asking a question that is truly universal. I think every parent from every society and era can relate. I’ll offer a few tips on influencing children to take responsibility for tasks around the house.

The goal is to build responsibility, not just obedience. One of the challenges we face with teens (and many adults) is that they prize independence and autonomy, but don’t always act responsibly when they have it. As parents we want them to be independent, but only if they are responsible. Household tasks can be a wonderful laboratory for building independence and responsibility.

Build an accountability system that doesn’t rely on you. Currently, you are responsible for all aspects of accountability. You tell your children when chores need to be done, evaluate their performance, and administer praise or sanctions. You are their supervisor. Your goal should be to replace yourself by making your children responsible for each of these elements. This will allow them greater independence, while also making them more accountable.

Expect this to be a learning process. I think you will discover that your children aren’t as unmotivated as you might think. Sure, they don’t like being interrupted in the middle of an important video game to “clean their room right now!” But the real barrier they face will be ability. Few children have ever been asked to create an accountability system before—and it takes some learning.

Ask them to set clear standards. Let’s imagine a few household tasks you might have them do: dishwashing, laundry, and keeping their rooms clean. Ask your children to create a checklist for each task. For example, their steps for doing the laundry might include: collect clothes, sort clothes into darks and lights, wash clothes in separate loads, dry clothes, sort and fold clothes, put clothes away. You should not be the one making this list. Have one child make the list, and then have the other children evaluate it and add to it. Give them as much independence and ownership as possible.

Have them establish roles, times, and reminders. You don’t want to be the one who has to remind your children to do their part. Instead, ask them to figure out who will be responsible for which tasks, how that person will remember, and how they will remind each other. You might need to help them come up with ideas. For example, you could create a responsibility bulletin board where assignments can be kept—e.g., Jamie does the laundry checklist on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Make sure their plans include reminders that don’t come from you. For instance, they could set alarms on their phones. Let them set the times for doing their chores—within reason. These bite-sized pieces of autonomy will mean a lot to them.

Set up peer evaluations. Don’t accept the disciplinarian role. Instead, have your children evaluate each other’s performance. For example, they can use their checklists to check on each other’s quality. In my experience, they will be as strict or stricter than you’d ever be—and they’ll appreciate the autonomy and independence.

Use deliberate practice. Don’t expect your children to be as good at doing household tasks as you are. They are unlikely to be as fast or as effective. For example, there is no reason why it should take them more than fifteen minutes to clean their room (pick up floor, make bed, put things where they belong, vacuum, and dust)—if they stay on top of it every day. Make it a challenge. Have them practice while a brother or sister times them and checks on the quality of their work. Doing a great job in ten minutes should be a source of personal pride for them.

Manage the team and the system, not the individual and the exception. Your children won’t always follow this new system, and you’ll have to hold them accountable. However, don’t hold a one-on-one with the individual child who has failed to do their chore. Instead, hold a brief family meeting, and focus on the accountability system. Point out that the system isn’t working well enough, and challenge them to fix it. Maybe they need to build in better reminders or maybe they need to get better at holding each other accountable. Don’t allow them to put you back in the supervisor role. Make them continue to manage themselves.

I hope some of these tips will be helpful. Of course, you will have to modify them depending on your children’s ages and your own family situation.

Best of Luck,


Crucial Accountability QA

Q&A: Keeping Your Workers Safe

Ron McMillan

Ron McMillan is coauthor of four New York Times bestsellers, Crucial Conversations, Crucial Accountability, Influencer, and Change Anything.


Crucial Conversations

Q Dear Crucial Skills,

Our company has worked long and hard to improve workplace safety and we’ve made some great strides. I have good employees that work for me and I’m sure none of them come to work with the thought that they will have an accident that day, but unfortunately it sometimes happens. Why would employees continue to take risks or shortcuts that lead to accidents?

What Can Be Done

A Dear What,

I congratulate you and your company on your success. Recently in the U.S., many of the most obvious workplace threats have been reduced or eliminated, making American workers far safer.

However, in 2007 more than 5,600 people were killed on the job and more than 4 million were injured.¹ In addition to this tragic human toll, these injuries cost firms more than $48.6 billion.² Clearly, there is much more that needs to be done.

Most of the gains in workplace safety can be attributed to improvements in equipment, policies, systems, and training. However, the issues left to address are the informal, cultural challenges.

Here at VitalSmarts, we conducted interviews and surveys among more than 1,500 employees from more than 20 firms. Our research revealed that the ugly secret behind most workplace injuries is that someone is aware of the threat well in advance, but is either unwilling or unable to speak up.

Specifically, we uncovered five crucial conversations that exist in most organizations that are politically incorrect or uncomfortable to surface. Ninety-three percent of employees say their workgroup is currently at risk from one or more of these five “accidents waiting to happen.” In fact, nearly half are aware of an injury or death caused by these workplace dangers.

The five crucial conversations of a safety culture are:

1. Get It Done. These are unsafe practices justified by tight timelines. According to the results, 78 percent of respondents see their coworkers take unsafe shortcuts. These common and risky shortcuts are undiscussable for 75 percent of the workforce.

2. Undiscussable Incompetence. These are unsafe practices that stem from skill deficits that can’t be discussed. Sixty-five percent of respondents see their coworkers create unsafe conditions due to incompetence, and 74 percent of workers say safety risks sustained by incompetence are undiscussable.

3. Just This Once. These are unsafe practices justified as exceptions to the rule. Fifty-five percent of respondents see their coworkers make unsafe exceptions. Only one in four speak up and share their real concerns with the person who is putting safety at risk.

4. This Is Overboard. These are unsafe practices that bypass precautions already considered excessive. The majority of respondents—66 percent—see their coworkers violate safety precautions they’ve discounted. Almost three out of four either say nothing or fall short of speaking up candidly to share their real concerns.

5. Are You a Team Player? These are unsafe practices that are justified for the good of the team, company, or customer. Sixty-three percent of respondents see their coworkers violate safety precautions for this cause. Only 28 percent say they speak up and share their concerns with the person.

The missing ingredient in a safety culture is the willingness and ability to effectively hold those who are engaging in unsafe behavior and practices accountable.

In order to create a culture of safety, everyone must have the skills to hold others accountable. These are the skills we train in Crucial Accountability workshops. The other essential component is to use the Six Sources of Influence to motivate and enable the team members to be accountable.

I witnessed a dramatically successful strategy work for a team on an oil rig working to reduce accidents and injuries and a team at a hospital improving patient safety. They both implemented a 200 percent accountability initiative.

After being trained in Crucial Accountability skills, as part of an Influencer plan, the workers agreed that they were 100 percent accountable to abide by the safety protocols. They also committed to be 100 percent accountable to speak up when they saw someone else violating safe practices. Each signed a “200 percent accountability” poster and gave others permission to confront them if there was any question about their own compliance. With amazing speed, workers reported a change in their culture and an improvement in the vital behaviors that lead to a safer workplace for workers and patients.

Accountability is the implicit assumption that underlies every safety program. Yet as our research shows, this assumption is more fiction than fact. Consequently, accountability is the critical weakness of most approaches to safety. If people don’t hold each other accountable for acting on observed threats, then more training to help them recognize threats will be of limited value. Silence, not blindness, is the problem.

This research also points to an exceptionally high-leverage strategy for improving workplace safety. If leaders focus on the five undiscussables and transform them from undiscussables into approachable accountability conversations, they can expect dramatic improvements in workplace safety.

All the best in your worthy effort to keep your people safe.


¹Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, July 2009.

²”2008 Workplace Safety Index,” Liberty Mutual Research Institute for Safety, 2008.

Crucial Accountability QA

Crucial Applications: Digital Divisiveness

VitalSmarts’ new research study shows that 89% of participants surveyed report damaged relationships as a result of the insensitive or inappropriate use of technology. And yet, most suffer silently.

According to the study of 2,025 people, 9 out of 10 report that at least once a week, their friends or family members stop paying attention to them in favor of something happening on their digital devices. And 1 in 4 say Electronic Displays of Insensitivity (EDIs) have caused a serious rift with a friend or family member.

So what do we do when confronted with such blatant EDIs? According to the research, most of us do nothing. Specifically, 1 in 3 people admit to coping with EDIs by simply ignoring them.

However, what happens when repeat offenders are your spouse, child, best friend, or coworker? Even with close relationships, people still struggle to speak up. In fact, nearly 2 out of 3 have no idea how to effectively reduce the impact of others’ inappropriate use of technology.

Those who say nothing give their silent approval of insensitive and bad behavior. So next time you’re face-to-face with an EDI offender, use your crucial conversations skills to restore civility without damaging common courtesy.

Here are five tips for getting started.

1. Take the high road. Some EDIs are urgent or necessary so assume the best intentions. Empathetically say: “That sounds important. I can come back later if you need to respond to that call or text.”

2. Spell it out. Specificity leads to results. Rather than making vague requests, set specific boundaries. Say: “We need your full attention in this meeting, so please turn off your cell phone.”

3. Illuminate the impact. Describe the consequences of an EDI rather than blast your judgments about another’s moral compass. Say: “Your screen light is disturbing my experience of the performance. Would you please turn it off? Thank you.”

4. Take heart. Don’t measure your influence by whether or not people immediately comply. Your intervention registers as disapproval and helps in the slow establishing of new norms.

5. Let it go. If you’ve employed every tactic and the offender fails to comply, let it go. Unless the situation will continue for an extended period of time or your safety is at risk, you’re better off just moving on.

View the results of our study in the infographic below or click here to download a copy.


Crucial Accountability QA

Getting Your Employees Up to Snuff

Joseph Grenny

Joseph Grenny is coauthor of four New York Times bestsellers, Crucial Conversations, Crucial Accountability, Influencer, and Change Anything.


Crucial Accountability

QDear Crucial Skills,

With recent organizational changes, I acquired additional people reporting to me as their first-line manager. This particular group supports older legacy software products that are slowly becoming obsolete. Our organization is transforming in ways that require employees to learn and use new tools so they can eventually join teams that are developing our new products. All team members have learned the new tools except one older individual. He is content with the status quo, vocalized that he does not want to do anything new, and intentionally does not take training or opportunities when offered.
The problem is that prior managers allowed this behavior to exist and I inherited it. How can I influence this person to change?


Managing Obsolescence

A Dear Managing,

Congratulations on your success in helping so many stay prepared for future responsibilities. The fact that you’ve got only one outlier is a credit both to your team’s initiative and your influence.

Now, let’s talk about the “older individual.” I’ll share a variety of thoughts that I hope spur a productive path forward for both of you.

1. Question the question. Is it really a problem that he doesn’t learn the new tools? For example, if the legacy systems will need another year’s support and he intends to retire in a year or so, perhaps he’s making a perfectly rational decision not to invest in new skills. My first challenge is for you to broaden your definition of a good outcome and consider whether his aspirations and the organization’s needs can both be served by keeping him where he is. If not, continue to #2.

2. Diagnose carefully. It’s often the case that ability problems appear to be motivation problems. For example, when I was five years old, I was embarrassed that I didn’t know how to swim. My mother signed me up for swim lessons and I feigned a lack of interest—not because I truly didn’t want to know how to swim, but because I was certain my lack of body fat would make me sink to the bottom of the pool. Could it be that he is interested in new ideas, but worries he couldn’t handle the complexity? If so, you need to find a way to make it safe to surface this issue and develop solutions to the ability problem—or at least his perception that there is an ability problem.

3. Explore natural consequences. Too many managers think it’s their job to motivate people to change. It isn’t. Your job is to help them understand the natural consequences of their choices. For example, you might explain, “You are highly competent at our legacy systems. Our new systems require abracadabra certification. In about eighteen months we will sunset our legacy systems. The only jobs we’ll have available then will require the new certification. There will not be a position you qualify for at that time based on your current skill set.” Having explained the world as you see it, it is his choice to either motivate himself to learn abracadabra—or not. You can surrender the need to manage his choices.

4. Agree on next steps. Let’s say you explore the natural consequences and he says, “Geez, I think I need to get up to speed on abracadabra.” If his past behavior shows that he makes commitments but does not follow through, you must clarify who will do what and by when and how you will follow up. You must also confirm the consequences of noncompliance. For example, you might ask, “Great, so what’s your plan? When will you take the training? When will you be available to take on tasks with abracadabra certification?” Having received his commitment, be sure to add the following: “Let’s talk in three months to confirm that the certification is complete. If it is complete after that time, I will slot you into some new projects. If it is not, I hope you understand that our ability to use you will have a limited life.”

Let me conclude with one final invitation. Make sure you check your own motives. Be sure you are not writing someone off because he is not everything you think he should be. If he is resistant to new skills, but his presence is still a “win-win” for the organization, don’t be myopic and miss that bigger picture.

These are tough calls to make. Management is tough. I wish you the best as you do the right thing for those you serve.



Crucial Accountability QA

Unaccountable Colleague?

Ron McMillan

Ron McMillan is coauthor of four New York Times bestsellers, Crucial Conversations, Crucial Accountability, Influencer, and Change Anything.


Crucial Conversations

Q Dear Crucial Skills,

I have invested a great deal of time and effort trying to help and train a young colleague on my team who joined the organization six months ago. However, my colleague consistently ignores the information I’ve prepared and sometimes does what I’ve explicitly asked her not to do. This approach undermines my trust in her. Not only does her behavior feel very disrespectful and unprofessional, but it has also resulted in additional work for me and other members of my team. I’ve already tried to have a crucial conversation with her, but she simply responds that she “already knows” and can manage on her own. I have escalated the issue, but now I’m wondering if there’s anything I could do to influence her positively.



A Dear Concerned,

From your description of the situation, I am not sure what your relationship is with the “young colleague.” I am going to assume you are a team member, but she does not report to you, otherwise I am sure you would not allow her “I already know” and “I can manage on my own” approaches to her job to continue.

When you do not have the organizational authority to require someone to complete tasks, your accountability skills can still wield strong influence.

In this situation, as with most, begin with a diagnosis. Why is she resistant to your efforts to inform her or train her? Start by factually describing what happened, compare it to what was expected, and then ask a diagnostic question.

Try something like, “Jenny, several times over the last six months, I’ve tried to help you, train you, and give you information, but you’ve responded that you already know or you can manage on your own. Last week, I gave you explicit instructions about what not to do and you did it anyway. As a more experienced team member, I feel it’s part of my job to coach you, but it feels like you’re resistant. Am I seeing this right? Help me understand. What’s going on?”

Next, listen carefully. Is the problem one of different expectations? Does she think she is not in need of your help? Does she think you are peers and it’s not part of your job to help her? If the problem is one of unclear roles and responsibilities, use this opportunity to clarify expectations including why you are trying to help her. If she disagrees with your explanation, involve her boss so that each of your roles is clear. If she is defensive and withdraws, or acts irritated and becomes argumentative, make it safe by sharing your good intentions.

Say something such as, “Jenny, I’m not trying to boss you around or control you. I’m just trying to help you be effective in your job and make sure what you’re doing fits with the rest of the team.” Often this simple skill discloses your motive and helps the other person understand you are trying to help, not hurt.

If she is not willing to talk it through with you, go over the issues with her boss. If she is willing to engage with you, instruct and motivate with consequences. Consequences provide the force behind all behavioral choices. We are thinking creatures and act based on the consequences we anticipate will result from our actions. Perhaps a young boy practices the piano thirty minutes every day because he knows if he does, he may one day be a great pianist, and he earns fifteen minutes of video game time for each thirty minutes he practices. His expectation that these desirable consequences will result from his practicing motivates him to practice.

In addition to motivating us, understanding consequences fills out our mental map. Often we don’t understand how our actions affect outcomes. For example, if I become aware that by letting an incoming call go to voicemail I am providing poor customer service, I might be motivated to answer the call by the third ring. Sharing consequences with others can both educate and motivate.

Let’s return to your question. Help motivate your young colleague by sharing the consequences of both cooperating and not cooperating. Here are some examples of what you might say:

“Jenny, I offered to train you in the processes we use and you said you already know them. I understand you have experience in this work, but we have modified and customized some of the steps. So if you don’t know how we do it, it will take longer for you to do your job.”

“Jenny, when I give you instructions not to do something and you do it, the quality of your work suffers. For instance…”

“When you don’t follow the procedures I’ve outlined, it causes additional work for me and my team. To meet the deadlines, we have to redo portions of your work, and that’s not fair to them or to me.”

By sharing the consequences that will naturally occur if she complies, you help give your colleague a lasting motivation to do her job well. For most people, sharing natural consequences will make a difference.

If this information doesn’t motivate her to cooperate, then with great reluctance, involve the boss who has the organizational authority to require her compliance. However, expect that when you resort to imposed consequences to motivate someone, you may strain the relationship and make cooperation in the future more difficult.

We can’t guarantee the desired outcomes in every crucial accountability conversation, but we have found that these skills, when used well, dramatically increase the likelihood of improving results and relationships.

All the best,


Crucial Accountability QA

How to be a Friendly and Effective Boss

Al Switzler

Al Switzler is coauthor of four New York Times bestsellers, Crucial Conversations, Crucial Accountability, Influencer, and Change Anything.


Crucial Conversations

Q  Dear Crucial Skills,

I’ve been told that one cannot be an effective boss by being a friend to those one supervises. I have some serious concerns about this as I feel that being a friend at work is a good way to gain employee confidence and performance.

I’m concerned about where to draw the line between being a friend and being a boss, and how to set the proper environment where friendship is allowed and being a boss is respected. How can I be both an effective boss and also a friend to my employees?

Friendly Boss

A Dear Friendly,

The challenge you’ve presented is the perfect example of a Fool’s Choice. What we mean by this is that we can only see two options that seem diametrically opposed. We don’t see it as a false dichotomy, but as an unfortunate reality. We found these Fool’s Choices to be ubiquitous when doing our research for Crucial Conversations. For example, we commonly heard people say things like, “I can speak up and be mean, or I can bite my tongue and be nice.” They felt they could be candid or courteous, but not both. Those who mastered crucial conversations found the “and.” They learned how to be candid and courteous. And so it is with managing or leading. In this bit of advice, I’ll try to help you see that you can be friendly and be a boss.

I’ll start with a story that shows one extreme of the term “boss.” I recall a leader telling me that when he was promoted, his boss gave him this advice: “Congratulations. Now get out there and fire a person or two so the rest of your team will know that you have power.” This is clearly a bad example. This person’s manager had a perception of leadership that focused on control, power, and even intimidation. From our research, we know that some people value quality over harmony; they value getting results over getting along. They value performance indicators like productivity and budget.

Another leader I know was told by her boss, “Don’t give praise to people for doing their job. It only makes them weak.” One of the reasons people find themselves in this Fool’s Choice comes from seeing bosses manage in this manner. And understandably, they don’t want to be like that.

Some people move to this extreme style of management because they have seen the consequences of bosses who are too friendly—who value getting along more than getting results. Unlike their results-driven counterparts, these friendly bosses fear being the bad guy to the degree that they fail to hold people accountable or press for continuous improvement. On the other hand, their birthday celebrations are superb and they highly value performance indicators like morale and job satisfaction. I should point out that there is a long line of leadership research that shows the negative consequences of managing in either of these extreme ways.

What we found from studying leaders and team members is that the best performers don’t fall into the trap of managing on one end of the continuum or the other. They value getting results and getting along. They value quality and productivity as much as they value harmony. They can clarify high expectations and rally a team to be both motivated and able to accomplish them. They can have tough, honest, candid conversations with care and courtesy. They have found the “and.” They know how to be both friendly and highly productive bosses.
So here is some specific advice to help you find your “and.”

1. Don’t fall for the Fool’s Choice. There are more options than being a boss or being a friend. You can value accountability and morale; you can find ways to get input and get execution. Get out of this trap by moving to dialogue—with your own boss and with your team.

2. Clarify how you can work to achieve both purposes. Put two columns on a sheet of paper. In one column, brainstorm together and clarify what tactics and measures you could use to make sure that key indicators like productivity, schedule, quality, and budget are being met. How will you set clear goals? How will people be held accountable? How will you deal with setbacks or gaps? In the next column, clarify the more people-centric measures and tactics. What goals will you set? How will you measure job satisfaction and morale? How will you praise people and celebrate successes? The outcome of this exercise will not only be clarity and balance, but you will also get beyond the Fool’s Choice.

3. Determine who does what by when and follow up. Good plans with frequent follow up give your boss, your team, and yourself confidence that there will be accountability and that nothing will fall through the cracks. Also, good plans help you know the specific steps and expectations you have to help you accomplish the results that make for a “friendly” workplace.

In closing, I want to share an observation that I’ve had many times over the years. Sometimes our greatest strengths can become a weakness. For example, if the manager is the most experienced and expert person in the room, she can sometimes hear points of information from her team, and then jump to a conclusion that skips three additional points. Her speed of thinking now leaves half or more of the team in the dark. The boss says, “Here’s what we’ll do…” and moves to the next issue. Her strength (speed and problem solving) has become a weakness because her team would describe her as controlling and impatient. To apply this to your case, don’t let your friendliness slide into missing deadlines, overspending budgets, or not holding people accountable. And don’t let your firm management style slide into not praising, involving, or smiling. The choice is yours.

I wish you well,