Category Archives: Crucial Accountability

Crucial Accountability QA

How to Make Virtual Meetings More Engaging and Effective

Dear Justin,

We are learning how to use videoconferencing as our new meeting platform. Do you have tips for facilitating meetings to promote participation and feedback, as many people seem uncomfortable because they can’t read non-verbal cues from others? Also, do you have effective methods for guiding people with interaction? No one is using the “raise hand” feature, so we often end up speaking at the same time and it’s awkward. We aren’t communicating as well as we did with in-person meetings. I’ve also noticed that people tend to rush, maybe because they’re uncomfortable speaking and seeing themselves at the same time. How can we ensure conversations flow more smoothly in a teleconferencing format? How can we encourage everyone to share their questions and concerns?

Needing Ideas

Dear Needing Ideas,

Thanks for your question. I’m guessing many of our readers share your concerns. It’s hard to get people to pay attention in any meeting, but when people aren’t in the same room, it can be especially difficult. And it’s particularly annoying when you make a nine-minute argument, pause for a reaction, and get “I’m not sure I followed you,” which might as well mean, “I was shampooing my cat and didn’t realize I would be called on.”

Meetings are often ineffective because there’s little to no accountability for engagement. There are four primary reasons to hold a meeting: to influence others, to make decisions, to solve problems, or to strengthen relationships. Since all of these are active processes, passive passengers in a meeting rarely do quality work. The precondition for effective meetings—virtual or otherwise—is voluntary engagement. Here’s what works.

1. The 60-second Rule. First, never engage a group in solving a problem until they have felt the problem. Do something in the first 60 seconds to help them experience it. You might share shocking or provocative statistics, anecdotes, or analogies that dramatize the problem. No matter what tactic you use, your goal is to make sure the group understands and appreciates the problem (or opportunity) before you try to solve it.

2. The Responsibility Rule. When people enter any social setting, they tacitly work to determine their role. For example, when you enter a movie theater, you unconsciously define your role as observer—you are there to be entertained. When you enter the gym, you’re an actor—you’re there to work out. The biggest threat to engagement in virtual meetings is allowing team members to unconsciously take the role of observer. Many already defined their role this way when they received the meeting invite and determined to work on something else while they “check in.” To counteract this implicit decision, create an experience of shared responsibility early in your presentation. Don’t do it by saying, “Okay, I want this to be a conversation, not a presentation. I need all of you to be involved.” That rarely works. Instead, create an opportunity for them to take meaningful responsibility. This is best done using the next rule.

3. The Nowhere-to-Hide Rule. If everyone is responsible, then no one feels responsible. Avoid this in your meeting by giving people tasks that they can actively engage in so there is nowhere to hide. Define a problem that can be solved quickly, assign people to groups of two or three (max). Give them a medium with which to communicate with one another (video conference, Slack channel, messaging platform, audio breakouts). If you’re on a virtual meeting platform that allows for breakout groups, use them liberally. Give participants a very limited timeframe to take on a highly structured but brief task.

4. The MVP Rule. Nothing disengages a group more reliably than assaulting them with slide after slide of mind-numbing data. It doesn’t matter how smart or sophisticated the group is, if your goal is engagement, you have to mix facts and stories. Determine the Minimum Viable PowerPoint (MVP) deck you need. In other words, select the least amount of data you need to inform the group. Don’t add a single slide more.

5. The 5-Minute Rule. Never go longer than five minutes without giving the group another problem to solve. Participants are in rooms scattered, who knows where, with dozens of tempting distractions. If you don’t sustain a continual expectation of meaningful involvement, they will retreat into that alluring observer role, and you’ll have to work hard to bring them back. Consider wrapping up a presentation or brainstorming meeting with a group-generated list of options, then throw out a polling or voting opportunity to determine the team’s opinion about where to begin.

I adapted these tips from an article I recently co-wrote with Joseph Grenny for Harvard Business Review. You can review the full article here. I hope this helps.

Best of luck,

Crucial Accountability QA

How to Lead a Company Through the COVID-19 Crisis

Adapted from an article written March 22, 2020

March 2020 will go down in history as the month that changed everything. In a matter of weeks, the novel coronavirus spread rapidly across the globe, rocking governments, stock markets, healthcare systems, education systems, entertainment, travel, you name it. Seemingly, nothing was spared. Routine life has been turned on its head for the foreseeable future. And while I could speculate about how life and business will look in the coming weeks and months, I think we can agree it will be different. Organizations can respond to the changes and challenges, both present and forthcoming, by doing the following.

Doing business in an ongoing pandemic requires 200% accountability.

Sometime in the next few weeks, we’ll be crawling out of our caves with the virus still lurking. People will want to get back to work and get back to living, but in a state of heightened vigilance. The new normal will be risk mitigation, not risk elimination. We will make permanent changes in social patterns for greeting, meeting, and living. We may need to permanently surrender handshakes, hugs, and European kisses in favor of bows or Namastes. Perhaps annoying, but not overwhelming ransom for a truce.

Compromise means employees and customers will accept a reasonable amount of risk as well. Your job is to ensure they feel safe enough in your way of doing business for their risk tolerance. The sooner you get in front of these changes, the sooner we will establish a new acceptable way of living. Organizations that pivot to this new normal best will need both potent social protocols and a culture of 200% accountability.

Successful businesses will develop social protocols suited to the new mood. They will rigorously practice social distancing and hygiene habits. For example, they will permanently space workspaces to enforce social distancing. Airlines may need to issue face masks and stagger seating. Effective leaders will change meeting patterns to rely on virtual contact as a default not a temporary inconvenience. Hygiene prompts and associated cleaning products will be ubiquitous. And none of this will succeed without a culture of 200% accountability.

Two-hundred percent accountability means that not only is each employee 100% accountable for following the standard, they are also 100% accountable for enforcing the standard with everyone around them—regardless of level or position.

The other day, I was at a workplace that had instituted social distancing. And yet, within a few minutes, I saw numerous violations of the norm—people standing inches from one another, shaking hands, touching a colleague’s arm, etc. I could tell the recipients of these touches felt uncomfortable. But they said nothing. Especially if the violator had higher social status than they.

Cruise lines have known for decades that their vessels are ideal playgrounds for aggressive viruses. And yet, this outbreak will forever be symbolized by lavish ships turned into prison camps patrolled by microscopic guards. Having protocols is meaningless. They only improve outcomes if they are turned into norms. Two-hundred percent accountability means employees will have to be skilled at confronting lapses in any of the new norms the instant they see it. The speed with which norms change is a function of the speed with which it becomes normal to confront violations of the new norm. Unless, and until, it is “okay” to call out anyone for lapses, independent of level or position, the norm will be a farce.

Make customers and employees feel safe by making the undiscussable discussable.

Effective leaders will understand that they must not just make their customers and employees be safe, they must make them feel safe. The best way to help people feel safe is to make the undiscussable discussable. Your hypervigilant customers are already thinking about risk.

So, put it on the table where you can address it as the first topic. First and foremost, let customers know clearly what you’re doing to mitigate risk of spread within your company. This must be done through human contact not mass emails. People don’t feel reassured by a well-crafted document. They feel reassured when a human being looks them in the eye and explains what they are doing to ensure they are safe right here, right now. Measure compliance with your new standards and be honest with your customers about how well (or poorly) you’re doing. At the end of the day, customers won’t trust you unless you’re trustworthy. And transparency is the foundation of trustworthiness.

Second, give them transaction options. People feel safer when they have choices. Let’s say, for example, your company has door-to-door sales agents. Hypervigilant homeowners will be immediately uneasy when they see a stranger on their doorstep. They will have no mental space for the pitch so long as they are worried about infection. One company mitigates this perception by having door-to-door salespeople don fresh plastic gloves in front of the homeowner. Each sales agent also sports a lanyard with a bottle of hand gel. After introducing themselves, they offer to continue the conversation either on the porch, through a virtual appointment, or in the home at a safe distance. Surprisingly, agents discover that simply describing the seriousness of their concern for safety, and offering choices, leads a far higher percentage of customers to invite the agent inside.

Put behaviors in place now that will prepare your business for the next pandemic.

Viruses aren’t done evolving. There will be a COVID-20, -21, or some other demon in the future. So, we should consider this pandemic to be a dress rehearsal for the next one. Viruses have to evolve through random mutation. Humans evolve, too. But we generally have to use our oversized brains to do it. We must do it by choice not by mutation. So, let’s get started. Let’s recognize this moment as an opportunity to develop new patterns of responding to threats, not just as an idiosyncratic inconvenience due to a new wad of DNA. If the next bio-threat is of similar toxicity, we need life and business patterns that move us more routinely to compromise. If we don’t make risk mitigation a way of life, risk elimination, and its unbearable costs, will be our only alternative the next time as well.

Crises always come with opportunities.

From this moment will come new norms for working, serving, caring, and connecting with each other. My family is actually closer now than we were two months ago. We have a virtual “Grenny Gab” at 5 p.m. most days that has made me feel more involved in the lives of my children than ever before. We inquire more about one another’s needs. We are more vulnerable about sharing our concerns. And we are more generous in reaching out to those who struggle.

This crisis offers the entire planet a similar opportunity. This is the first time in the history of humanity that the entire world turned unitedly against a common foe. We are being presented with an opportunity for future cooperation as we come to recognize that borders are fictions and we are global kin.

But the opportunities presented by this crisis won’t be forced on us. It will require choice and leadership. If we are wise, we will take advantage of nature’s invitation to unprecedented unity with our brothers and sisters worldwide. We will heretofore share information more liberally, pool resources more generously, and intervene anywhere more selflessly. To paraphrase Martin Luther King, the most precious lesson we can learn from this moment is that “Suffering anywhere is a threat to everyone everywhere.” Let’s not just make this about the virus, let’s make it about evolving to a better way of being.


Crucial Accountability QA

How to Foster Accountability in a Tight-Knit Culture

Dear David,

Our organization is non-profit with a family-oriented culture. Unfortunately, we act like a family that has no accountability. Instead of holding people to account, our approach is to avoid and dumb down. No one is ever fired for poor performance. People arrive late, fail to complete time-sensitive tasks, and chat a lot—I mean they sit and chat for hours. Meetings don’t start on time because we wait for stragglers. I could go on. Those of us who have a work ethic and a sense of responsibility have to pick up the slack. When we took our concerns to management, they wrote out a list of service values and code of civility, rather than directly address the performance issues. Is there anything I can do?

Wanting Accountability Tactics

Dear Wanting,

Thanks for a challenging question that a lot of us can relate to. Maybe we don’t work in a non-profit, but we struggle with a culture that is low on accountability. Or we work under a management team that seems more interested in keeping the peace than in improving performance. I’ll suggest some ways to begin having an impact.

Partner with a Leader. It sounds as if you are not in a supervisory position. Changing these norms will require you to partner with someone who is. You need a leader who is likely to share your concerns, who has the skill and autonomy to try these ideas with their team, and who will be able to influence other leaders through their success. Don’t expect the right leader to immediately volunteer for this pathfinder role. They may have other concerns that are equally or more important than yours. Finding and nurturing a partnership will require listening, fact-finding, patience, and compromise.

Focus on the Fool’s Choice. We humans are quick to see decisions as either/or, even when they aren’t. In Crucial Conversations we call these Fool’s Choices. Examples include thinking we need to choose between peace and honesty or between winning and losing. In your case, the Fool’s Choice is between holding people accountable and treating them with caring respect. The way you break free of a Fool’s Choice is to ask, “How can we do both?” In this case: “How can we hold people accountable while still showing them our caring respect?” This is the question you and your leader partner will need to address and answer.

Turn Purpose into Measurable Goals. It sounds as if your organization is using “service values” as a substitute for measurable results. Unfortunately, these service values have become minimum standards of behavior, rather than challenging targets to achieve.

Consider using a method called Strategy On A Page (SOAP) to cascade your broad purpose and vision down to measurable goals. Create a SOAP that details the links between your organization’s ambitions (what it wants to achieve in the world) and the measurable results that departments and individuals must achieve for this ambition to be realized. Identifying measurable results that must be achieved provides an immediate reason to hold people accountable.

Identify Problem Behaviors. Involve the people affected by the problems you describe (lateness, chatting, etc.) in identifying problem behaviors. The goal is to have the group agree on the behavior changes they want to see within their team. A powerful way to involve them is to use a Start, Stop, and Continue exercise. This exercise asks the group to identify new behaviors they need to Start doing in order to achieve their measurable results, existing behaviors they need to Stop doing if they are to achieve these results, and existing behaviors they need to Continue doing to achieve the results. Notice that these behaviors might be related to your organization’s “service values” but will be far more focused. Document these behaviors, create posters that describe them, and ask everyone to sign these posters as their commitment to change.

Build New Skills and Norms. We ask for 200 percent accountability for the behavior changes the team has identified. This means that team members are 100 percent accountable for their own behaviors and also 100 percent accountable for the behaviors of their colleagues. Instead of leaders being the only ones to hold others accountable, everyone in the team holds everyone else accountable.

Provide Leadership Support. When it comes to accountability, follow-through is everything. Work with your leader partner to identify formal and informal leaders who can help team members hold each other accountable. These leaders will play a champion role: coaching people who don’t feel skilled enough to hold a peer or boss to account, pushing people who don’t want to hold others accountable, and stepping in when an accountability discussion goes poorly or results in retaliation.

I hope these ideas give you a place to start. What have other readers seen that works? Please comment with your ideas below.