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ATD Blog

Can Coaching Help Create a Culture of Accountability?

Thursday, August 17, 2023

In a word, yes.

But if we have this conversation, we must dispel a few myths about culture, accountability, and change.

First, holding people accountable is different from accountability. Holding someone accountable is something we do. But being accountable is something they do. Even the notion of “holding” someone accountable misrepresents accountability. They will only be accountable if they choose to be accountable. You will see it when people regularly state what they will do, do it, and keep us apprised of the progress.

Second, culture is not a thing we create directly. Culture is the sum of the behaviors of a group of people. Culture is not a product of something we do but a by-product of what everyone does. Therefore, if we want a “culture of accountability,” we want the sum of the behaviors of everyone in our organization to represent them holding themselves accountable.

Finally, change only occurs sustainably in a place of safety. Someone must be comfortable discussing their goals and progress, both high points and challenges, knowing the intention is to help them, not judge them.

How can this happen? This is where coaching can be a game-changer.

Just as we must think of culture and accountability differently, we must do the same with coaching. Traditional coaching paradigms suggest that coaching is a “thing we do” in conversations pre-defined as coaching. Instead, envision coaching as a way to do things that can appear in every conversation. It becomes more natural and changes the expectations of both the coach and coachee. The need for safety is met when the coachee realizes this is not about our desire to tell them what to do but their desire to achieve something. As an example, a great “accountability-and-culture-building conversation” might use four simple questions:

“What is your goal?”

This “way we do things” is markedly different from the start. When we begin, ask them what their goal for the conversation is. By doing so, we instantly reframe the perspective that they own the dialog and outcome, not us. We become a resource to help them solve their problems. By continuing to ask clarifying questions, we assist them in gaining even more clarity about what they want to accomplish, how they will know if they have done it, and how important it is.

“What’s been happening?”

Next, invite them to describe the current situation that created the need for the conversation. Often, just vocalizing the problem that has only been tossed over in their mind can result in a better perspective. Clarifying the gap between what they want in their goal and where things are will shed light on the value of closing that gap and its difficulty. It’s also a chance for them to unload potential frustrations with the situation while keeping the purpose of sharing those feelings aligned with the goal of your conversation.

“What are your options?”

With the foundation of their goal and current assessment of reality, ask them what ideas they might have to solve it. If nothing comes to mind, keep encouraging them with help like, “If you could do anything, what would you do?” or “If someone else were listening, what might they suggest?” Only when they have established a few choices of action do we ask if they would like input from us. This helps reinforce the intention that our primary goal is not to give them our solution but to help them create and own their solution.

"What is your way forward?"

Finally, ask them which ideas work best for them and ask them to create a simple plan of how they will accomplish it.

The approach and the questions are simple, and the impact is huge. Focus will improve, and they will naturally apply their best skills and abilities. Engagement will increase, creating a sustainable effort. Confidence to think through and solve problems will get stronger. Finally, they will feel ownership for what will happen next.

To say it more succinctly, they, by choice, will become accountable.

About the Author

Alan Fine, co-creator of the widely recognized GROW Model, is the founder and president of InsideOut Development. Alan is considered a pioneer of the modern coaching movement, and many of the world’s most respected organizations have adopted his InsideOut approach to performance improvement, including IBM, NASA, Honeywell, Gap, and Coca-Cola. Alan has dedicated the past 25 years to helping people from all walks of life elevate their performance and unlock their potential, including athletes such as Davis Cup tennis star Buster Mottram, record-breaking triathlete James Lawrence, and PGA golfers Phillip Price, David Feherty, Colin Montgomerie, and Stephen Ames.

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Excellent and so relevant especially as many return to offices, are hybrid, etc. As leaders and team members gain awareness that coaching is not "a thing" but rather those intention conversations that drive results and build accountability the "work world" will be a much better place. 😁
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I enjoyed this article and will implement the things I've learned from it during my coaching sessions. Thank you!
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