Support vs. Challenge - Improve Accountability in Your team - 3

Improve accountability with Support vs. Challenge

You want to improve accountability in your team.

This is the third and final installment of our Leader’s Accountability Guide. Did you miss the first or the second installment in this series? You’ll get more out of this entry if you go back and read those first.

In installment one, we named some common surprises and frequent mistakes that well-intentioned leaders make in trying to improve accountability.

In installment two, we got clarity about Clarity in the Accountability Culture Equation.

Clarity + Support + Challenge = Accountability Culture

Clarity established. So now…

Support Second

Once you’ve got clarity, it’s time to assure our people that they’re not on their own. They’ve joined a team. Someone — better yet, everyone — has got their back.

Simon Sinek, in Leaders Eat Last, does a great job of laying out the scientific case for support. He demonstrates, teams will not pull together in places where people do not feel safe, supported, and cared for. In fact, neuro-chemically, people who feel under threat will not be accountable. In order to make it easy to repel threats, their brains will switch into self-protection mode. This is not a choice on their part. It’s not selfishness, not a character flaw. Actually, it’s not really a choice. For the brain of someone who feels unsafe, self-interest is a biological imperative.

Accountability is a state of vulnerability, and people don’t do vulnerability when they’re in danger.

How to Support

Consider this. Support is key to building the trust and a sense of psychological safety. Trust and psychological safety, in turn, are required to inspire accountability.

In other words, support is a prerequisite of accountability. That’s because accountability is a choice to be vulnerable, and a brain that feels under threat will not choose to open-up under a condition of threat. The brain considers that giving the knife to the enemy.

A brain that feels protected, safe, and supported is the only brain free to choose accountability.

In order to create an environment of support, we’ve got to know what that looks like. It includes policies and procedures that acknowledge the humanity of your team. Support requires that you adopt business practices and HR polices that are consistent with the organization’s professed values. (In too many companies, for instance, “TRUST” is listed as a core value. And then the employee handbook is full of policies that belie profound mistrust in the employee — by default.) Support includes everyone on the team looking out for one another and stepping in to help if someone stumbles. In a high-support environment,  leaders give specific praise for a job well done, and constructively crafted suggestions for improvement when needed.

Here are some ways supportive leaders express their support directly to the folks on their team:

  • What are your career goals? How can I help you get there?
  • What are your expectations of me?
  • Do you have what you need? (I may not always be able to give you the tools you want, I always want to know what would help.)
  • I have confidence in you.
  • Let’s make sure we have clarity around the priorities so you know what most needs your attention.
  • Failing happens. Failing is expected. Fail forward.
  • Yesterday’s presentation was far better than last month’s. I can see you took my feedback to heart and improved your slides and your speaking cadence.
  • How’s your family? (You know names, by the way.)
  • What obstacles do you see coming down the pike? How can I help ensure your success?

To be effective in inspiring accountability, support must not be occasional, sporadic, or inconsistent. Effective support is frequent, regular, and consistent. It’s specific. It’s so common as to be the norm. People who’ve been working in a supportive environment learn to expect support. And give it. Support becomes the rule. Like gravity.

Why do we trust gravity implicitly? Because, it’s always there.

Here’s the code of accountability…

When my team and the structures we work within have my back and I know it, then I will readily embrace accountability. 

Clarity + Support + Challenge = Accountability Culture

Challenge Third

Relationships built on reliable support can — errm… ah — support a hefty dose of challenge without cracking under the strain. Support helps people to know they belong, that they’re accepted, and that they will not be hung out to dry. And secure in that knowledge, people will accept and welcome challenge that presses them to improve. When supported AND challenged, people willingly reach for levels of excellence, initiative, and productivity they haven’t reached before. They take risks.

In the military, they have a saying for accepting the pain of growth and commitment to purpose. They say, “Embrace the suck.”

When you think back through your life, who are the people — the teachers, coaches, leaders — who made the biggest difference in your life? For me, they’re the people who knew how and when to support me. And they knew how and when to challenge me.

  • They knew I was capable of more. They calmly insisted that I step into that capability.
  • They calmly insisted that my teammates step into the capabilities that their roles required.
  • They invited us to embrace the suck. They insisted… gently and firmly.
  • They did not lower standards to meet us. They lifted us to meet high standards.

That combination of support and challenge fills people with a sense of surety and courage. As a combo, it’s a steady hand on their back, ensuring they don’t fall backward and also that they take the next step forward.

In the context of accountability, what does challenge look like? Challenge includes making it clear that accountability is a requirement for being and remaining on the team.

Requirement? You may be thinking, “But in the first installment of this guide, you said we can’t hold others accountable. It’s a personal choice.”


In an environment of healthy challenge, challenge is often framed in the form of a choice. The choice is between:

  1. Embracing accountability and remaining on the team on the one hand, and
  2. Refusing accountability and allowing the team to move on without you on the other hand.

Do not think, “drill sergeant.” Challenge in the context of support is not about hard, loud edges or emotionality. Think instead, “physical therapist.”

A physical therapist requires that we get uncomfortable. They’re compassionate. And they’re firm.

“I know it hurts. Do it anyway. Just a little further than last time. Now hold it. Hold it a little longer. No. Don’t let up. Good. Now rest.”

Can you imagine the scene with this physical therapist? Read it again. Imagine.

“I know it hurts. Do it anyway. Just a little further than last time. Now hold it. Hold it a little longer. No. Don’t let up. Good. Now rest.”

In your imagination, is the physical therapist angry about the patient’s resistance? Is the PT raising their voice in response to expressions of fear or pain? Is the PT making space for refusal?

Short Story

I remember the physical therapist in the hospital after I’d had surgery on my leg. She insisted on seeing me walk down the hall on crutches. The crutches were easy. Being upright after surgery, on the other hand, not so much. That was very painful.

“You don’t have to do it right now,” she said. “And, I can’t let you go home until you walk all the way down the hall and back. And you have go up and down three stairs. I have to see you do that before we discharge you. You worry about the crutches and the walking. I’ll wheel your IV bag along beside you and make sure you don’t fall.” The choice was mine. I could a) walk and go home where I wanted to be. Or I could, b) refuse to walk and stay in the hospital longer.

Easy choice.

Very difficult walk.

Easy choice.

Total support. Total challenge.

So what does challenge look like in a work leadership situation?

  • This is the standard. Please meet the standard.
  • The gap between your performance and the standard is X. How do you plan to close that gap?
  • I know growth from A to B doesn’t happen overnight. Here’s a timeline by which I’d like to see you reach B.
  • What are your goals? How are you getting in your own way?
  • What is the next step in continuous improvement for us? How will you contribute?
  • You committed to Z. You didn’t deliver Z.
  • You committed to Q. The deadline is coming up. How’s that coming? Please be specific. Are you on schedule?
  • “What would greatness look like right now?” (from Cy Wakeman’s book, No Ego)
  • Gently refuse to take back any “problem” that is theirs to solve. (You can use our smart leader’s SMART model for doing this.)

How can you challenge without degrading support or breaking trust? Challenge in support.

I once heard someone say — and I loved it — “Instead of calling people out, call them UP.”

In the context of support, when I am held to a high standard and challenged to meet it, then I am strongly inclined toward accountability.

How to Improve Accountability In Your Team?

Let’s review.

Clarity + Support + Challenge = Accountability Culture

Using clarity and specificity, ensure you and your team are on the same page. Get there by separating the components of accountability.

  1. Responsibility: What’s the job? What are the expectations? What is the standard?
  2. Reliability: Did you do what you said you’d do? Are you delivering on your responsibilities?
  3. Effectiveness: How will we know if you are successful? Did you get the results we were looking for?
  4. Ownership: Are you ready, willing, and able to look for, identify, and own the connection between your actions and the results they delivered.

Next, support people through care, training, expressions of compassion. Be interested in their lives and their goals. Share your confidence in them.

Challenge people to meet a high standard. Ask them to push their capabilities and to be better tomorrow than they are today. Require them to take on new responsibilities, and to own their effective execution.

Successfully inspiring accountability is not about balancing these ingredients one against the other, trying to find that perfect mix. A little more of this… A little less of that.

Accountability, personal fulfillment, and exceptional performance result from marrying clarity, support and challenge. Strive to be high in all three. Extremely clear. Wicked supportive. Highly challenging.

You will love the results. Your team will love you. They’ll love each other. And, they’ll love themselves more.

I’ll leave you with this new equation. Accountability = self love.

The Accountability Culture Formula - Improve Accountability in Your Team - 2

The Accountability Culture Formula

In the first installment of this series on improving accountability on your team, we talked about three surprises. We busted three myths.  And now we’ll look at the “how to” of creating an environment of accountability.

To be entirely too simplistic about it, there’s an Accountability Culture Formula. Leaders who implement this formula create an environment that inspires their team to profound accountability.

Let me be clear. This formula is not correct. Rather, it’s useful. The factors contributing to or degrading accountability culture are entirely too complex to cover exhaustively in a short leader’s guide. Therefore, this formula alone will not get you all the way to a culture of profound accountability.

Fear not! What this Accountability Culture Formula will do — we’ve seen it again and again — is help you come to a breakthrough in accountability among the people on your team. And that breakthrough alone will make a big difference in:

  • your company’s performance metrics 
  • your company’s revenue and profits
  • your company’s talent retention
  • and in your personal quality of life.

And who doesn’t want a better quality of life?

We’ve simplified the interdependent factors that lead to accountability. After all, simplicity leads to action. And this guide is worthless if it doesn’t lead you to action.

So here it is, a simplified accountability culture formula you can put to use today!

Clarity + Support + Challenge = Accountability Culture

With the rest of this guide, our aim is to give you insight into the components of this formula. Then, with that insight, you can act to operationalize clarity, support, and challenge. If you embed these components in the way you and your fellow leaders think about your operation, then I promise you a breakthrough in accountability on your team.

Clarity First

Reaching true clarity and mutual understanding is among the greatest challenges for any team. 

And gaps in clarity cost you traction.

The great wit and playwright, George Bernard Shaw, famously quipped, The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”

That’s not just funny. It’s also true. For example, how often has someone told you, “Ok, I’ve done task X that you asked me to do.” And when you see their work, you can only think, “That’s not what I meant. That’s not what I asked for.”

Communication is hard. To illustrate this, Peter Drucker told us, “Communication is in what the listener does.” This means, we never truly have control over what we’ve communicated. Once the words leave our lips, our listener hears and interprets. They’re hearing and interpreting through the lens of their own understanding and experience. Their mood and their distractions color their interpretation. They’ve got their own context. And context creates meaning.

To Illustrate

Imagine a gun. Now put it in the hands of an aggressive criminal. That gun takes on a threatening meaning. 

Now take that same gun and put it behind glass in a Museum of Human Ingenuity. Its meaning is entirely changed. 

We leaders must remember that each mind — your mind, your direct report’s mind, your other direct report’s mind — each mind is its own complex context. Each mind receives the same message differently.

Once the message leaves our “email outbox,” we don’t know or control how it will be read or understood.

Therefore, we’ve got to take great care to ensure a high likelihood that what the listener takes from us is the message we’ve intended. As Steve Sims (the Real Life Wizard of Oz) says, “I don’t communicate to be understood. I communicate so it’s impossible that I’ll be misunderstood.”

We must communicate with thoroughness and precision.

To that end, let’s define some terms.

Clarity on Accountability 

Accountability means different things to different people. Heck, it means different things to the same people in different moments.

When you ask someone to, “be accountable,” you know what you mean. They think they know what you mean. Chances are very good, however, that your intended message and their perception of your message are not the same. You’re using the same word, but when you investigate one layer deeper, you’re likely not on the same page.

In fact, you’re not only on different pages about whether they’re accountable or not. You’re not even on the same page about what “accountable” means in this context.

Conflict ensues. Or people bury their feelings. Disagreement is hidden and resentment builds. And resentment degrades relationships — and performance. 

It can be hard regain the trust you’ve lost in one another.

What happens to trust in the context of misunderstanding and mistrust?

As a leader, you no longer have trust in their willingness to be responsible, honest, and forthright. And they no longer trust you to be fair, to have their back, to employ reason in your assessment of their performance.

Without repair, this marks the beginning of the end of a healthy relationship.

The Accountability Culture Formula-Within-the-Formula

Accountability — the great white light of responsible action in a relationship. Honesty, integrity, it’s the holy grail of employee characteristics. Without accountability, there can be no trust. There can be no confidence. There can be no transparency and teamwork.

 Agreed. And…

Accountability is white light indeed. It is illuminating. There’s a kind of purity to it. It sheds light into the dark places in our relationships and in our companies. And like white light, accountability is actually made of different components. 

We’d better define accountability.

Better yet, let’s break it down into its constituent parts.

When you break down actual white light, you reveal the rainbow’s colors — ROYGBIV. Accountability — at least the kind we want in our workplaces — is also a combination of components.


R: Responsibility = What is your job? 

The first ingredient of accountability is RESPONSIBILITY. Without clarity of what’s expected from your people, they will deliver what they believe is expected.

A team member’s responsibilities include (and are certainly not limited to) their job description. Responsibility is the sum total of what’s expected from you in your role. It’s those expectations that have been laid out for you in writing and verbally. And, unfortunately, it’s also all those things that are “common sense” and go without saying. 

Thing is… Nothing goes without saying. And everything worth saying is worth repeating.

You will have to repeat yourself if you want your team to clearly understand and remember their responsibilities. Period. 

I know, you want to say something once, and have your team take it up. I know you feel like a broken record when you have to say the same things over and over again. I know that what I’m suggesting here flies in the face of the leadership conventional wisdom that we all learned growing up. Whenever they had to repeat themselves, our teachers told us, “I’m not here talking for my health.”

When you accept that repetition is simply a part of great leadership, that our human brains retain that which is repeated, that repetition is a signal to the brain of importance (and that our brains interpret something not often repeated as not important), your frustration at having to repeat yourself will ease. Just like you’re not frustrated by the need to repeatedly brush your teeth.

Repetition is maintenance.

A leader’s responsibilities include clarifying and re-clarifying the responsibilities of those in their care.

You’ll have to iteratively spiral in on mutual understanding of what the responsibilities are of those on your team.

And every time the job responsibilities shift, there’ll be a new gap in clarity you’ll have to iteratively narrow. 

In order to inspire accountability, you need clarity around responsibilities.

R: Reliability = Do you do what you say you’re going to do?

RELIABILITY is the second ingredient of accountability. It’s every person’s job responsibility to track the commitments they’ve made and to honor those commitments. 

If I’ve told you, “I’ll bring you a red X by Wednesday at 3PM,” that’s a complex commitment.

To demonstrate reliability, I’ve got to do all of:

  • Have an X for you. A Y is not an X. I committed to an X, so nothing else will do. Not even an x.
  • Ensure it’s red. I told you it’d be red. A green one will not do. Green may be just as good to serve the purpose. Because it’s not consistent with the commitment, it does not reflect reliability.
  • Bring the X to you. If I have the X at my desk, I’m not done. I committed to bringing it to you.
  • Be on time! I told you it’d be done by Wednesday at 3PM. That’s part of what I said I was going to do. To be true to my word, timeliness is part of reliability.


  • Renegotiate. None of us can deliver every one of our commitments every time. The reliable among us will notify, renegotiate, consult about alternatives in advance of the deadline. A reliable person will communicate as soon as it seems remotely likely that there may be a problem with delivering 1) an X 2) that’s red 3) to you 4) on time.

You need clarity with your team around the expectation for reliability. Define what reliability means and that reliability is a responsibility. And you’ll need to recognize — out loud — both reliability that you see from your team — and its absence — every chance you get.

Of note, your team is reliable far more often than they are not, even the lowest performing among them. Ensure your feedback reflects that.

E: Effectiveness = Are you getting the results you intended?

EFFECTIVENESS is the third ingredient of accountability. As a leader, you’ll be more effective when you delegate the desired outcome (accomplish this result) rather than the means or method for getting there (do exactly this, like this). Either way, to be effective as a leader, you must impart to your team the desired outcome of the task, even if you’re also assigning the means.

If you and your people don’t have mutual understanding (in advance) of what results mark success, how will you come to an agreement about whether success was reached or not?

You need clarity around desired outcomes and how they compare to actual outcomes. You need clarity, that is, around what effective looks like.

Have you clearly outlined together, what will be the metrics of success? Once you have, you’ll be able to objectively assess together — minimizing the chances for destructive conflict — whether or not you’re looking at a successful effort. Clarity eliminates the need for judgment.

Effectiveness is. Or effectiveness is not. And the margin — the excess or the shortfall — can be measured. And corrective action can be planned.

O: Ownership = Are you willing and able to own a relationship between your actions and your outcomes?

When you take OWNERSHIP (ingredient four), you commit that it’s your responsibility to:

  • Ensure you have clarity on what your responsibilities are
  • Commit to your job responsibilities — fully and without secret reservation
  • Deliver and communicate on your commitments
  • Look at your results and compare them honestly to the desired outcomes
  • Make connections between your results and what you did — for better or for worse
  • Make adjustments to the actions you take going forward in order to close any gaps between the desired outcomes and your actual results

Ownership is a key and critical component of accountability because it is possible to know our responsibilities, be reliable to do what we said we were going to do, and still not be effective. Failing happens. The question of ownership is whether you blame circumstances or whether you embrace the truth. As Cy Wakeman puts it in her book, No Ego, “Your circumstances are the reality in which you must succeed.”

Why do some people fail and others succeed in the same circumstances with the same skills?


Only when one owns their influence on their outcomes will they adjust their strategy and tactics in order to achieve better outcomes.

Supposedly, Einstein said, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” That he never said it doesn’t matter. It’s not true anyway.

What’s true is that doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results is a symptom of a lack of ownership. 

Once you embrace the reality of your circumstances… When you commit to adjusting yourself to unchangeable reality rather than excusing failures (past and future) because of circumstances… Then and only then are you fully accountable and therefore capable of achieving ever greater effectiveness.

Ownership Makes Iteration Inevitable

Remember the potential exists that people can renegotiate the shared understandings between them and come to new ones.

Responsibilities may change. 

For example, we worked with the leaders of a company where a top performer was failing to meet some of his job responsibilities. He not good at taking notes and reporting on his activity and outcomes. The sales leader and CEO were both frustrated that this top-performing sales person was neglecting an important part of his job. Therefore, leaders in the org agonized over whether to keep him.

Even though keeping records of his activity was Ryan’s responsibility, he was unreliable in meeting this obligation. And Ryan was also ineffective at it. When he did take notes, they were hard to follow and didn’t add much value to the organization. Ryan’s ADHD made this responsibility tough for him because the challenge was hard-wired. His reliability and effectiveness with record-keeping were therefore unlikely to change, even with great intention and effort. 

The solution, hidden in, “this is how we’ve always done it,” was simple. The company accommodated Ryan’s neurodiversity. Someone else in the company who was great at note-taking interviewed him about his activity once a day and took cogent notes in the CRM. Together, they were very quick, thorough, and effective.

In other words, they renegotiated Ryan’s responsibilities.

After that change of responsibility, Ryan became nearly 100% reliable. He met all the expectations that his leaders now had for him. His sales performance — already excellent — improved. So did his overall accountability.

Other folks may buck the system — the responsibilities — for completely different reasons. Some people are not reliable to the system, but are reliable to the results. They’re effective without being reliable. We call these people Mavericks

You have to decide for yourself whether you’re willing to tolerate Mavericks on your team. 

We have a soft-spot in our hearts for Mavericks at The Yes Works (most of us kind of lean that way ourselves). That said, you cannot allow Mavericks to run roughshod over their responsibilities and still expect to have a culture of accountability.

You’ll need to have a frank conversation. You’ll have to negotiate with them to devise a set of responsibilities that work for you both.

In other words, if you want the results a Maverick can deliver without compromising your team’s culture of accountability, then you must renegotiate the Maverick’s responsibilities.

Story Time

A friend who was a president’s club sales rep for a Fortune 1000 company was required by policy to be in the office to make sales calls every day at 8am. This chaffed for him. He often didn’t do it. Because, he said, it meant his day was less productive. He couldn’t make as many sales.

He had to waste time in driving to and from the office that was better spent driving to and from prospects’ offices.

So there was a constant tension between him and his boss and between him and his peers who didn’t sell as much as he did — and who were at their desks every day at 8am.

What his boss finally did was to change the responsibilities for sales reps — not just for my president’s club friend.

Anyone with sales under $X in the previous quarter was required to be at their desks at 8am. Anyone over $X had demonstrated they had a system that worked better for them, and so they were given greater latitude to bring in the business their own way.

Accountability came back into integrity in the office because Mr. President’s Club — the Maverick — was now reliable to his responsibilities, and ALSO effective.

If others wanted the same latitude he had, they knew how to earn it.

Clarity + Support + Challenge = Accountability Culture

In this second installment, we’ve covered clarity. Next time, we’ll get into Support and Challenge. And the equation will be complete. You’ll be ready to build a sustainably and thoroughly accountable team.

Why’s that matter?

With profound accountability, your company can take a leap in capacity almost overnight with the resources you have now.


Coming soon…

(This was installment 2 in this series on creating an Accountability Culture. See here for the first installment about three surprises about Improving Accountability in Your Team. Next, we’ll have a look at both support and challenge. We” investigate how they work in concert to free the brains of the people on your team to outsource self-interest so they can focus on contribution and communication so your company can surpass it’s current capacity.)

How to improve accountability in your team

Improve Accountability in Your Team - 1

"How can I improve accountability in my team?" That's the question we get again and again. Sometimes that question comes in different words. And when we dig in, we often find this is the question underneath.

Looking for Accountability in Your Team

A breakthrough in accountability on your team could become your company's unfair advantage.

Therefore, everybody wants one. Few leaders get one.

It's one of the most common woes of leaders all over the world. "I want more accountability on my team."

In short, improving accountability in your team is mission critical. If you can't count on your people to get stuff done, and done well, then you don’t have a team. And if you're not getting stuff done better tomorrow than you did today, then you can forget growing. And you can forget having a sustainable company. Sooner or later entropy will beat you.

Good news...

Accountability is the antidote to entropy.

Like the antidote in any action movie, it’s do or die. And, accountability -- profound accountability -- is hard to come by.

Which leads us to why. Why’s it so hard to get accountability from your team at every level of your organization? After all, you’re accountable.

The Accountability Surprises

Leaders who work with us encounter three big surprises about driving team accountability.

2. You may be inadvertently (but clearly) telling your team that, “Accountability is not a job requirement.”

3. Modeling accountability is not enough to inspire accountability in others.

1. You cannot hold someone else accountable.

The second biggest surprise:

In effect, if there’s a persistent shortage of accountability somewhere on your team, you’re almost certainly sending out a message you don't want to send. And you're sending it loud and clear.

For instance, you’ve seen this pattern. Someone on the team chooses not to be accountable. That choice costs that person nothing. That choice "worked out." The person repeats it. Again, it costs nothing. It worked out again. Behavior reinforced.

The message you’re sending, "Accountability is not a job  requirement."

In other words -- and this may sting a little -- if your team is persistently unaccountable, then you are not being accountable.

Pointedly, you get what you tolerate. Chronic accountability gaps are a sure sign that leaders are tolerating accountability gaps. If you want a breakthrough in accountability on your team, then you will have to embrace accountability to ensuring accountability

Lee Cockerell, former EVP of Ops at Disney World, illustrated this idea in a story he told me.

Story time

Lee had been the Director of Food and Beverage at a Marriott Hotel. It was summer. And not surprisingly, there were lots of flies buzzing around the dumpster. Some few of those flies made their way through corridors of the hotel to the restaurant.

When Lee gave a tour of the facilities to Bill Marriott, the two of them came to the dumpster.

“If you have flies in your operation,” Mr. Marriott said to Lee, “you must like flies.”

Admittedly, flies will be flies. That’s true. And flies like trash. And hotel restaurants generate lots of food waste. So flies at the dumpster is no surprise.

And still, if you’re dedicated to a restaurant without flies, with effort and ingenuity -- with commitment -- you can have a fly-free restaurant. Lee took the lesson that, “If I’m getting results I don’t like, it’s up to me to do something about it.”

To Improve Accountability on Your Team

I don't want my analogy to be too abstract to be plain. Do you see an accountability gap on your team? Then there's a greater level of responsibility you can take on to help get you there.

Think for a moment of your least accountable team members. If they’re permitted to not choose accountability without challenge or consequence, this let’s them, “off the hook.” And it doesn’t serve them. In fact, it leaves them stuck, arguing for their own limitations. And it leaves you stuck with a post that’s filled with a poor performer, cementing the longevity of mediocrity.

Critically, for your most accountable team members, seeing non-accountability around them builds resentment. Accountable people want to be recognized and appreciated and rewarded for their performance. They value meeting challenges and overcoming them over comfort. They don’t want to see equal rewards going to people who aren’t putting in the effort and the risk that comes with accountability.

Furthermore, they want to be challenged by the environment. There's fulfillment for our most accountable team members in being challenged to grow still more skill and more accountability. (Truth is, that's where fulfillment lies for people who resist accountability as well.)

Unaccountable people feel comfortable in environments where accountability isn’t a job requirement. So they stay.

By unfortunate contrast, Accountable people become uncomfortable and unhappy. So they leave.

As a result, the team slowly becomes less and less accountable overall. One at a time, you replace accountable people and behaviors with unaccountable ones. You’re in a crushing feedback loop of doom. You're unrecruiting.

The third biggest surprise:

Modeling is not enough.

Leaders we work with tell us, “I keep showing them what accountability looks like. I demonstrate it every day.” They ask , “Why don’t my people follow my lead?”

One CEO recently asked, “Why don’t they get it? It’s common sense!”

The truth is, there’s no such thing as common sense. Common sense comes from common experience, and no two of us truly have that.

If you want accountability from the people on your team, yes, you must model accountability. When you're not accountable, you’ll be seen as a hypocrite for insisting on accountability from others.

And, modeling alone won’t get the job done.

For instance, your people don't all speak exactly the same way you do. You use the word, "ain't." They don't. Likewise, your team won't necessarily pick up your behaviors of accountability simply because you model those behaviors.

The single biggest surprise:

What surprises many intentional and conscientious leaders most is this.

You cannot hold someone else accountable.

Accountability is a personal and an individual choice.

We leaders can ask others to be accountable. We can invite them to join us in accountability. And others look to us to draw inspiration. Inspire others to embrace accountability.

What we cannot do is force the issue.

We’re faced with the famous horse adage, “You can lead a horse to water.” Drinking… Choosing accountability… That’s out of our hands.

In fact, try to force someone into accountability, and you’ll earn more resistance than success.

In the next installment of "Improve Accountability in Your Team," I'll introduce the not-magic formula you can employ to create an accountability breakthrough in three months or less.


Follow this link for the second installment of our Accountability Culture Guide, or contact us today to ask for the whole guide all at once.

Receiving the F-word: Feedback

We get a lot of people asking us about the ‘F’-word.


Almost every question we get is about how to deliver effective feedback. And that’s a great question.

Often overlooked and at least as important…

How to receive feedback.

People who receive feedback well perform better. They learn and grow faster. They develop more meaningful and more beneficial relationships. Their careers thrive with allies to push them along. Feedback fills in our blindspots, provides motivation, and nurtures relationships.

Today I’ll focus on the corrective kind of feedback.

(I’m not a fan of the concept of “positive” and “negative” feedback. It’s all useful. I prefer “corrective” and “congratulations.”)

So, a brief treatise on taking it in… without shouting the famous F-word in response.

What to do when receiving corrective feedback

  1. Assume positive intent. Decide as a matter of personal discipline that the person speaking to you intends the best for you. Usually it’s true. Even when it’s not, you’ll be well served to act and think as if it is.
  2. Say, “Thank you.” Whether someone is giving you kudos or correction, the first relevant response is, “Thank you.” Especially if someone is giving you critique, they’re taking a risk to provide you with input.
  3. Seek to understand. Do you understand what the other person is saying and why? “You need to do a better job connecting with the audience.” That could mean so many things… It could mean: a)Tell stories that relate to their lives. b) Choose a topic that they care about intrinsically. c) Make more eye contact. You can’t do anything with their feedback until it’s clear and specific. Help the feedbacker get there.
  4. Reflect. Reflect back what you’re hearing. “I think you’re telling me that they audience was disengaged because I was looking at my notes too much.” And, ask for examples from your behavior that reflect the criticism they’re offering. “When you’re telling the story of client success, you were reading the story from your notes verbatim. That’s a particularly important time to be a bit more off-the-cuff, and work on bringing the audience into your narrative.”
  5. Try it on. And… Don’t argue. Seriously. Don’t argue. You can take all the time you need to “try on” the critique you received — consider what parts of it may or may not be relevant to you. Take on what fits. Let go what doesn’t. Move on with your life. Remember, there’s not much feedback you get that doesn’t reflect some bit of important truth — at least in how you’re coming across.
  6. It’s never about the thing. It’s always about the relationship. This is so important and powerful a principle, our entire “Fundamentals of Adeptability” workshop (the 2nd of 3) is built on it.  Don’t let the facts get in the way of the truth. The feedback we receive is rarely just about this moment. It’s a piece of a larger relationship. Feedback is a trust-laden exercise, and by your response, you’ll either invest in the trust account between you, or you’ll take a loss in that account.

I know…

This is an admittedly short and simplistic take on a complex subject. And like most things interpersonal — it’s also SIMPLE. Simple and DIFFICULT.

And receiving feedback well will serve you perhaps better than any other single skill you ever develop. And it makes you a safe and rewarding environment for others. It makes you a leader.

Try it. Commit to a significant trial period. If you’re like me, your ego will shout bloody murder. It wants you to fight. Or to flight your way right out of there. Have you ever watched yourself deny the validity of a criticism leveled at you, even when you knew it was right on the money? I have.

It’s profoundly powerful to stand in calm and to thank instead.
If you’d like more on effective feedback — give and take — check out this past episode of our podcast, Mighty Good Work.

Team Maintenance: Teams Need Tune-Ups

Team maintenance is easy to overlook. You’ve got stuff to do. Your team has stuff to do.


People are the best part of your business, and they’re the hardest part. Your team has an operating system, an engine, that defines the way it functions.

Company culture.

And Deloitte gives us a few striking statistics:

  • “94% of executives and 88% of employees believe a distinct workplace culture is important to business success.”
  • While they know culture is important, fewer than 1 in 3 report understanding their company’s culture and the forces that shape it.
  • And only 12% of executives believe their company is driving the right culture.

“Driving” culture is an interesting and apt analogy.

A great team is a high performance machine — like a BMW. And like most drivers, most leaders don’t know how to keep what’s under the hood in great tune.

And that’s nobody’s fault. It’s why there are mechanics in the world.

Unfortunately, most leaders don’t do much to keep the machine in tune. They leave it to chance.

THE SOLUTION — Team maintenance

Get that hood open. Make sure the plugs are gapped correctly. Insure the timing is tight. Deliberately install the culture you want, and maintain it carefully and consistently.

As a high performance machine, it has narrow tolerances and the habits your people bring from outside will press against your efforts. You’ll notice significant entropy, dragging down on performance, engagement, and satisfaction of the team. Invest in Team maintenance.

Rather than being frustrated, you can choose to expect that. And accept that. Just as BMW drivers accept that a high-performance machine needs frequent attention to maintain optimal performance.


Some leaders are culture geeks. They’ve studied the science and they fanatically follow the emerging data. They put as much attention on the culture as they do on the technical aspects of their business.

Others don’t have that geek-out level of interest and insight.

Neither is a better or worse leader.

Just as there are tech CEOs who are coding geniuses, there are also tech CEO’s who can’t write a single line of code. Their strength is in knowing which they are, and getting the right support where their knowledge and interest is thinner.

And the first kind — the geeker-outers — can only be that person up to a point. When the company grows, they need to find ways to scale their influence.

And when you need help, The Yes Works is here to provide training and support for World-Class collaboration on your team.



Communication and collaboration are some of the hardest things to get right in any company culture, and the difficulty increases exponentially as you add more people to the team. Adeptability Training gets teams communicating and collaborating effectively as a matter of habit and mindset. Book a call today.

How to deal with fear of the unknown so work can be fun

Fear of the unknown is one of the great performance killers. It doesn’t have to be.

Embrace the Fear

We’ve got a choice. We can freeze. Or flee. Or fight.  Most of us clench our jaw, grit our teeth, hold our breath, and try to face down the fear.

That’s the circumstance in which fear compromises our judgement, makes us touchy and reactive, burns us out.

What other choice have we got. We’ve got the hard choice. We can embrace fear. Decide it’s our friend.

Transform the Fear

Disarm Fear of the Unknown

Fear of the unknown can lose its teeth when we limit what aspects are unknown. When we can assure and reassure one another… We’re a team. I’ve got your back. You may falter, but we will not allow you to fall… When those are the circumstances, that’s enough that’s known to take the unknown in stride.



Your team’s response to the unknown is a success-level determining aspect of culture. Culture shapes and defines the destiny of your company. Adeptability Training helps build the got-your-back culture that supports communication, collaboration, and innovation. And fun. Book a call today.


P.S. For another great insight into how to embrace the fear, gotta love this from Simon Sinek. “I wasn’t nervous. I was excited.”

Why No Feedback Is Very Bad Feedback

We recently conducted a workshop on cultivating a high-performance, collaboration culture at HR West in Oakland. Here’s a teaser. Feedback is a critical component.

A Common Critical Feedback Error

At one point, a CEO in our workshop loudly bragged. “Here’s what I do. My executive assistant knows she’s doing a good job when she doesn’t hear from me. If she’s not doing well, I tell her exactly what she’s doing wrong. That works!”

That doesn’t work!

The absence of communication is indeed communication. The absence of performance input is indeed feedback. It communicates volumes. And here’s the thing…

You have absolutely no influence over what your silence communicates. You may think it communicates, “good job.” Not likely.

At the very least, it communicates a message that is far more complex than, “good job.”

And every time, it leaves lots of uncertainty. Uncertainty leads to fear. And fear leads to poor decision making and bad performance.

The Only Effective Feedback Is Deliberate Feedback

Check out this video.

And, please, Let us know what you think.


Deciding to give more input to your team is a great start. And not all feedback is created equal. We’re always happy to talk with you about what it looks like to be a skillful performance communicator. This podcast episode with Elaine Lin Hering is a great place to start.

Want an Adeptable team?

Book a call today.

Who Is Accountability For?

Accountability: an obligation or willingness to accept responsibility or to account for one’s actions

Who’s it for?

Accountability is one of the biggest concerns for leaders today. It’s a word I hear multiple times daily.

At The Yes Works, we very often get the question, “How do I hold people accountable?”

People resist accountability when they don’t trust the intentions of the person having that accountability conversation.

There’s Science

In his book, Leaders Eat Last, Simon Sinek lays out the evidence. In many workplaces, people wonder whether they belong. People feel ill at ease, anxious, or concerned for their belonging or well being. In that context, there’s a neuro-biological imperative to cover one’s ass.

The brain biologically cannot accept accountability when it feels threatened.

A Powerful Context for Accountable Cultures

Accountability is not for the company’s or for the leader’s benefit. It’s for the benefit — pride, fulfillment, growth — of the person being accountable.

In fact, it’s best to shift one’s thinking away from “holding people accountable.” Shift to simply “being accountable.” That way, it’s an action and a choice of that person for their own sake. It’s not something that’s being done to them.

Would you rather BE accountable or be HELD accountable?

Check out this video.


Adeptable teams are accountable teams. Accountability becomes something people crave, seek out, ask for. Trouble is, reading an article doesn’t often change behavior. That’s why we created Adeptability Training for your team for a communication and collaboration culture as a matter of habit and mindset. Want an Adeptable team?

Book a call today.

Why Culture Eats Strategy for Breakfast

“Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” Says who? Often, it’s said to be Peter Drucker — management guru for the ages.

Why? How does culture eat strategy for breakfast?

Who do you imagine will perform better… A team of competent, motivated, collaborators without a plan at the start of the day, or a team of arrogant, unmotivated, uncommunicative people who start the day with a solid plan?

Which team is going to have an easier time recruiting and retaining great people?

Important or Critical or Both

Strategy is very important. Culture is critical. Turns out, if you’ve got a great culture, you can set the team’s culture to work on strategy as priority number one. Then you’ve got both.

Catch some more of our thoughts in this here video.


Communication and collaboration are some of the hardest things to get right in any company culture, and the difficulty increases exponentially as you add more people to the team. Adeptability Training gets teams communicating and collaborating effectively as a matter of habit and mindset. Book a call today.