Six Words to Fix Your Accountability Problems Words to Fix Your Accountability Problems
accountability and success

Article Summary:

Many organizations struggle with accountability. We discovered six words you can use to fix your accountability problems.


Are you frustrated by accountability problems? Are people passing the buck, denying responsibility? Do meetings go on and on without coming to timely and definitive conclusions?

We’ve been there and know how demoralizing it can be.

We discovered six words you can use to turn the tide. Using these six words at the close of every meeting will fix your accountability problems and upgrade your team’s performance.


The Six Magic Words

What are those six magic words? At the end of the meeting, facilitate a collaborative recap, ideally in writing on a whiteboard for all to see, of:

Who will do what by when?

“Who will do what by when?” is better than “next steps” or “action items.” In our experience, those terms aren’t precise enough about who will take the next step or action item. Or it may not be clear when the person responsible will have it done.

“Who will do what by when” is precisely what needs to be agreed upon by the meeting participants to everyone’s satisfaction—especially the person being held accountable for something by a specific date.

At the next meeting, the agenda and the discussion status must revisit the “who will do what by when” assignments from the previous meetings for closure.

Alignment Scorecard

When organizations aren’t aligned, it can reduce performance dramatically and cause frustration and dysfunction. With this Alignment Scorecard, you can assess your organization’s level of alignment and make plans for improving it.


Bonus Kicker

Beyond the six words above, there’s also a bonus kicker: a meeting “checkout.” “Checkout” is the practice of closing the meeting with a statement like the following:

“Let’s do a brief checkout from everyone around the table with their honest feelings about the quality of our meeting. If it’s great, that’s wonderful. If it’s not, we need to know. A few words only, a sentence or two at most.”

Start on one side, go around the table, and go last. Keep the comments brief.

After everyone has commented, thank them and adjourn the meeting. Don’t disagree or quibble with something someone says. Also, don’t punish anyone at the meeting or afterwards for something they said.

Follow up constructively offline and one-on-one. Act on what you’ve learned. Thank the source of the feedback at the next meeting to encourage further input in future meetings. (See our article, “How to Give Effective Feedback—A Communication Superpower.”)



Want to improve accountability on your team? Close all meetings with “Who will do what by when?” and a checkout.

Leadership Derailers Assessment

Take this assessment to identify what’s inhibiting your leadership effectiveness. It will help you develop self-awareness and identify ways to improve your leadership.


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Postscript: Quotations on Accountability

  • “Break the riddle of accountability… and you will have solved one of the thorniest issues in modern business.” -Mihnea Moldoveanu, author
  • “Accountability is the issue! If you can’t find a way to get people to be accountable, you’re going to find it hard to make anything else work, let alone your business.” -Robert Lebow and Randy Spitzer, authors
  • “I believe that accountability is the basis of all meaningful human achievement.” -Sam Silverstein, author
  • “When it comes to standards, as a leader, it’s not what you preach, it’s what you tolerate. When setting expectations… if substandard performance is accepted and no one is held accountable—if there are no consequences—that poor performance becomes the new standard. Therefore, leaders must enforce standards. Consequences for failing need not be immediately severe, but leaders must ensure that tasks are repeated until the higher expected standard is achieved.” -Leif Babin in Extreme Ownership

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Bob Vanourek and Gregg Vanourek are leadership practitioners, teachers, and award-winning authors. They are co-authors of Triple Crown Leadership: Building Excellent, Ethical, and Enduring Organizations, a winner of the International Book Awards. Check out their Leadership Derailers Assessment or get their monthly newsletter. If you found value in this, please forward it to a friend. Every little bit helps! Words to Fix Your Accountability Problems

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