Form finish the form use the text book.
each question at least 60 words. PRAISE FOR CRUCIAL ACCOUNTABILITY
“The revolutionary ideas in this book demonstr
finish the form use the text book.
each question at least 60 words.
PRAISE FOR CRUCIAL ACCOUNTABILITY
“The revolutionary ideas in this book demonstrate how these moments of potential breakdown are, in
fact, opportunities for breakthrough. The wisdom this book offers will not only save countless imperiled
relationships, it will strengthen the world by profoundly strengthening its fundamental building blocks—
our families, neighborhoods, communities, and workplaces.”
—Stephen R. Covey, author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People
“The tools and concepts of Crucial Accountability have proven to be extraordinarily effective in
preparing our leaders to manage change and improve results. We expect this new book to take us to the
next level in driving accountability.”
—Mike Redenbaugh, CEO, Bell Helicopter
“The greatest test of a relationship is what happens when someone lets you down. Yet these are the
moments of greatest opportunity. By learning to manage accountability, you can unleash the true potential
of a relationship or organization and move it to the next level. Never again will you have to choose
between candor and kindness. This book teaches you that you can win by using both.”
—Ken Blanchard, coauthor of The One Minute Manager® and The Secret: What Great Leaders Know—
“I’ve got no patience for foo-foo. This book is the real deal—it has immediate practicality. This is not
fluff. The authors spent over 10,000 hours observing individuals who had been identified as the best at
engaging in difficult but necessary Accountability discussions where everyone wins and relationships are
ultimately strengthened. Read it, underline it, learn from it. It’s a gem.”
—Mike Murray, VP Human Resources and Administration, Microsoft (retired)
“Hot-headed players. Bad refs. Energetic coaches. Anxious team owners. Watch out! This book
redefines how we all relate to each other. Read it now or get lost in the dust.”
—Danny Ainge, Executive Director, Basketball Operations Boston Celtics
“Brutal honesty is easy. Suffering in silence takes no skill. Achieving absolute honesty while
maintaining complete respect requires skill. And useful skills is what this book offers. It redefines how
we relate to each other at work and at home. When Crucial Accountability becomes required reading for
everyone, the result will be overwhelming increases in productivity and prosperity.”
—Harry Paul, coauthor, FISH! A Remarkable Way to Boost Morale and Improve Results
“I’ve seen firsthand how these ideas can change a company for the better. But Crucial Accountability
is not for the fainthearted leader. It starts with the CEO, demands greater openness of all leaders, and
removes people’s chronic excuses for failed results in the past. It also creates a new climate of
willingness on everyone’s part to confront tough issues with colleagues. It works. It profoundly affects
performance. I highly recommend it.”
—Russell K. Tolman, President & CEO Cook Children’s Health Care System, Fort Worth, Texas
“This book bristles with ideas and insights. The authors build a compelling set of skills based on solid
research and a deep understanding of psychological functioning. Think of the most talented leaders,
parents, or spouses you know—these are the skills they use. It is a ‘must-read’ book for anyone who has
to make decisions about people and to be socially effective.”
—Dr. Philip Zimbardo, author, host of the PBS series Discovering Psychology, past President of the
American Psychological Association, Professor of Psychology, Stanford University
“The compelling organizational, often life-saving, skills presented in this book are the most important
contribution to improving human interactions in healthcare I have seen in my career. I am confident that if
all healthcare providers adopt these strategies there will be a dramatic improvement in patient safety and
satisfaction—the ‘bottom line’ in healthcare that really counts.”
—Wanda Johanson, President, American Association of Critical-Care Nurses
“To sustain a learning culture, the tools of Crucial Conversations and now Crucial Accountability are
a must-have! Read on and find out how Crucial Accountability can add to your team’s effectiveness!”
—Charlotte Roberts, coauthor of The Fifth Discipline Field Book
“Clear and consistent communication can work magic in an organization … but only if leaders have the
courage and skills to set clear expectations and hold all individuals accountable. Crucial Accountability
gives leaders simple, effective tools to address tough problems and move to resolution.”
—Quint Studer, CEO, Studer Group and author of Hardwiring Excellence
“There is no way to overestimate the power of language and conversation to transform our lives.
Crucial Accountability offers a proven and powerful way to have more authentic relationships in a way
that brings more care and compassion into the world.”
—Peter Block, author of Flawless Consulting, Stewardship and The Answer to How Is Yes
“Crucial Accountability lays out not only the need for holding others to their word but also practical
steps on how to do so. People who say they believe in accountability and execution, but struggle with how
to do it, should have this book on their desk. It goes beyond conceptual ‘solutions’ and provides simple
techniques and approaches that anyone can use.”
—Paul McKinnon, Head of Human Resources, Citigroup, Inc.
“They’ve done it again! With Crucial Accountability, the authors have once again delivered practical
and proven tools to immediately improve individual performance and organization success. This will be
the most recommended and most effective resource in my library.”
—Stacey Allerton Firth, Vice President, Human Resources, Ford of Canada
Also by the Authors
Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High
The New Science of Leading Change
The New Science of Personal Success
Copyright © 2013 by VitalSmarts. All rights reserved. Except as permitted under the United States
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We dedicate this book to
THE WORLD’S BEST LEADERS
Those managers, supervisors, associates,
team members, parents, colleagues, and
technicians who have routinely
stepped up to tough (even hostile)
problems and skillfully held
Thank you for your examples.
Thank you for helping us learn.
Introduction: What Is Crucial Accountability?
And Who Cares?
Part One: Work on Me First
What to Do Before an Accountability Discussion
Chapter 1: Choose What and If
How to Know What Conversation to Hold and If You Should Hold It
Chapter 2: Master My Stories
How to Get Your Head Right Before Opening Your Mouth
Part Two: Create Safety
What to Do During an Accountability Discussion
Chapter 3: Describe the Gap
How to Start an Accountability Discussion
Chapter 4: Make It Motivating
How to Help Others Want to Take Action
Chapter 5: Make It Easy
How to Make Keeping Commitments (Almost) Painless
Chapter 6: Stay Focused and Flexible
What to Do When Others Get Sidetracked, Scream, or Sulk
Part Three: Move to Action
What to Do After an Accountability Discussion
Chapter 7: Agree on a Plan and Follow Up
How to Gain Commitment and Move to Action
Chapter 8: Put It All Together
How to Solve Big, Sticky, Complicated Problems
Chapter 9: The 12 “Yeah-Buts”
How to Deal with the Truly Tough
Appendix A: Where Do You Stand?
A Self-Assessment for Measuring Your Accountability Crucial Conversation Skills
Appendix B: Six-Source Diagnostic Questions
The Six-Source Model
Appendix C: When Things Go Right
Appendix D: Discussion Questions for Reading Groups
As I read this book, my mind kept reverting to a particular image. Namely, J. D. Watson and Francis
Crick as they relentlessly pursued the mystery of life … and finally struck upon the double-helix structure
of DNA. The world has never been the same. Next stop … Stockholm in December.
I don’t know whether the authors of this book will get the call that confirms a Nobel, but there’s a part
of me that thinks it’s their just deserts for this magnificent and groundbreaking masterwork.
An absurd claim?
I think not.
War and peace, wellness and extreme physical and mental malaise, marriage and divorce, abject
failure and Olympian success … all these profound subjects at their core depend upon functioning—or
malfunctioning—human relationships. Dyads: a couple. Little organizations: a 20-table restaurant or 20-
person finance department. Giant organizations … an army or a Fortune 50 corporation. Nations on the
brink of war and genocide.
Enter our new Watson and Crick and the essential element of the organizational DNA: the DNA of
effective accountability discussions.
Some renowned management experts have made careers out of their belief, “Get the strategy right …
and the rest will take care of itself.” Others have said, “Strategy, smattergy … it’s the core business
processes that explain the divergence between winners and losers.” And then there are those that claim
that leader selection has no peer in explaining various degrees of organizational effectiveness.
Doubtless there is truth in all the above. (I’ve held various of these positions over the years … each
passionately.) But then again, perhaps all such “magisterial” concepts aimed at explaining differences in
organizational outcomes miss the boat. Perhaps the idea of organizational DNA that makes for stellar
outcomes is Absent Without Leave.
Yes, I’m that bullish on Crucial Accountability. (Perhaps because I’ve seen so many of my own
brilliant strategies evaporate in the space of minutes—seconds—as I screwed up an accountability
discussion with a peer or key employee. Again … and again.)
So why did we have to wait until this moment for this book? Perhaps it’s the times. We used to live in a
more tolerant world. Buildups to war could last decades. Smoldering corporate ineffectiveness could
take eons to burst into flame. Lousy marriages festered for years and then more years.
No more. The marketplace is unforgiving. One strike—whether new-product foul-up or terrorist with
dirty bomb—and you’re (we’re!) out. Thus continual organizational effectiveness—which is, after all,
nothing more than human-relations effectiveness—is of the utmost urgency, from CIA headquarters to
Crucial Accountability is an original and a bold leap forward. No doubt at all. But like all good
science, it is built on a rock-solid base of what has come before. The neat trick here is imaginatively
applying the best of psychological and social-psychological research over the last half century to this very
particular, precisely defined topic … crucial accountability—on topics such as performance and trust—
that promote or destroy relational or organizational effectiveness.
The basic hypothesis is profound. The application of proven research is masterful. The explanations
and supporting stories are compelling and lucid. The translation of the research and stories into practical
ideas and sound advice that can be implemented by those of us who have floundered on these paths for
decades is nothing short of breathtaking.
Hey, if you read only one “management” book … this decade … I’d insist that it be Crucial
A Note to Our Readers
This book is a companion to Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High. Those
who have read this offering or heard about it or bought the action figures are sure to wonder, “What’s the
difference between crucial conversations and crucial accountability?” We’re glad you asked.
Crucial conversations deal with high-stakes interactions where emotions run strong and opinions vary.
Crucial accountability deals with a subset of these interactions. After parties have come to a common
understanding and assignments have been made—meaning things are on course—someone fails to
complete his or her assignment.
All accountability discussions start with the question “Why didn’t you keep your commitment?” And
they end, not merely when a solution is reached, but when it’s done in such a manner that both parties are
able to comply and the relationship is strengthened. In short, accountability discussions are the prickly,
complicated, and often frightening performance discussions that keep us up nights.
Now, here’s how the two books relate. This book draws on the principles found in Crucial
Conversations—with an occasional and brief review of those pivotal concepts. With that said, almost all
of the material you’ll find here deals with the challenges associated with violated commitments and, as
such, is new and stand-alone. Pick up this book, read it, put the ideas into action, and you’ll never walk
away from another broken promise again.
Here are just a few of our 100+ colleagues on the VitalSmarts team who are as committed to this work
as any of the authors:
James Allred, Terry Brown, Mike Carter, Lance Garvin, Jeff Gibbs, Justin Hale, Emily Hoffman, Jeff
Johnson, Todd King, Brittney Maxfield, Mary McChesney, John Minert, David Nelson, Stacy Nelson,
Rich Rusick, Andy Shimberg, Mindy Waite, Yan Wang, Steve Willis, Mike Wilson, Paul Yoachum, and
Thanks also to our U.S. associates who are gifted teachers and powerful influencers:
And finally we express gratitude to the partners and friends who have supported our work around the
Australia—Geoff Flemming and Grant Donovan
Egypt—Hisham El Bakry
France—Cathia Birac and Dagmar Doring
Netherlands—Sander van Eijnsbergen and Willeke Kremer
South Africa—Helene Vermaak and Jay Owens
South Korea—Ken Gimm
U.K.—Grahame Robb and Richard Pound
What Is Crucial Accountability?
And Who Cares?
One of my problems is that I internalize everything.
I can’t express anger; I grow a tumor instead.
STEPPING UP TO VIOLATED EXPECTATIONS
Sooner or later it happens to all of us. You’re politely standing in line and a fellow cuts in front of you.
What the … ? Well, you’ll just have to say something.
“Just where do you think you’re going?” you bark. “The line ends here. It begins there!”
To punctuate your point you aggressively shake your finger in the direction of the beginning of the line.
Nobody is going to play you for a fool.
It turns out you’re not alone in your impressive display of courage. Years ago we asked people at a
local mall if they would speak up to a line cutter. Almost all of them said they would. Nobody wants to be
a patsy. But then, later on, when we had people actually cut in front of people standing in line at a movie
theater, not one person spoke up. Not one.
Of course, not all the people we studied remained totally silent. Several made faces or turned to a
friend next to them and griped about the intrusion. They reserved the right to bad-mouth line cutters behind
And then came a breakthrough. After changing the age, gender, and size of the line cutters in trial after
trial—to no effect—a woman finally spoke up. She tapped the shoulder of the woman who cut in front of
her and asked, “Who does your hair?” (Check out a re-creation of this experiment in the video “Whose
Line Is It Now?” at http://www.vitalsmarts.com/bookresources.)
IT’S A MATH THING
Later, when members of our research team asked people why they had gone to silence in the face of
someone violating a social norm—not to mention violating the sacred line rights of the subject in question
—most commented that the mental math they performed at the time of the infraction suggested it wasn’t
worth the effort. It was only a minor infraction of little consequence, and speaking up might actually cause
a problem. Ergo, go to silence.
So we upped the ante. We left the mall and sat down next to students at a university library and made
loud noises. Once again, nobody said anything. Members of our research team practically held a party in a
location that most of us see as the very temple of silence, and yet nobody said a word. It was a library,
and we were talking REALLY LOUD! Still nothing.
So we snuggled up close to library patrons seated at the tables around us and read from their books—
occasionally underlining a passage or two. Again, little direct dialogue. Next we went to the student union
building, sat next to people seated in the cafeteria, asked them about the food they were eating, and then,
you guessed it, started sampling French fries and pie from their tray. Still, few spoke up.
As clinically passive as these research subjects seem, their silence was unique neither to the
population we studied nor to any particular decade. As it turns out, 30 years after we started this line of
research, you can watch a number of TV programs that are devoted to this very phenomenon. The
producers hide their cameras, pay actors to do something strange, antisocial, or politically incorrect in
front of innocent observers, and then record the antics that follow.
When faced with scenarios even more bizarre than eating from a stranger’s plate (e.g., observing a
possible abduction, seeing someone collapse on the sidewalk, listening to someone make a horribly racist
comment, etc.), the majority of today’s onlookers remain silent. You have to put someone’s life in danger
before innocent observers will utter a word—and even then, most people don’t say anything.
But what if the scenario you’re watching is not taken from a mall study or TV program and the stakes
are both genuine and high—people could die if someone doesn’t speak up. How would you feel about
research subjects who remain silent under these conditions? Better yet, would you yourself keep quiet
even when doing so could cause others harm?
To answer the first question, you don’t have to go very far. Simply visit a patient in a nearby hospital.
Attached to the doorframe of nearly every hospital room in the Western world you’ll find a hand pump
filled with sanitizing solution. Each healthcare professional entering the room, by hospital policy, is
supposed to sanitize his or her hands to help avert passing infections from one patient to the next.
The good doctor entering the room you’re observing has just examined three patients down the hallway
who are suffering, in turn, from cholera, meningitis, and yellow fever. He is now coming in to examine
(read touch) your father-in-law. Watch as the physician enters the room and fails to wash his hands. He
walks right past the bottle of sanitizing solution and toward your father-in-law. Fortunately, it’s your lucky
day. An attending nurse observes this violation of protocol. Surely she’ll speak up.
Or will she?
Most won’t. Once again, it’s a math thing. It’s a physician whom the nurse has to hold accountable, and
the physician could become annoyed, even offended, at the mere hint of a misstep. Heaven only knows
that incurring the wrath of a physician can wreck a career. Plus there’s always a chance that the diseases
won’t be passed on so easily. And then again, maybe the doctor did wash his hands somewhere out of
sight. And so unfold the mental calculations of the nurse who opts to join the ranks of the silent.
THE SILENT MAJORITY
Now, lest you think we’re being unfair to healthcare, let’s make it clear that the habit of not holding
others accountable in the face of a possible disaster is not unique to hand hygiene nor, for that matter,
theater protocols. For over three decades following that first day in the mall, we’ve routinely conducted
studies examining people’s willingness to step up to the plate and hold others accountable. It turns out it’s
remarkably easy to find conditions where people don’t speak up to individuals who are violating a
promise, breaking a commitment, behaving badly, or otherwise not living up to expectations.
For instance, two-thirds of those we polled suggested that they can hardly stand going to family holiday
gatherings because one or more of their relatives will do something offensive, yet nobody dares say
anything. Someone tried to say something once, but it led to a nasty argument, and so now people clam up,
suffer the intolerable tension, and leave the gathering as soon as possible.1
In a similar vein, the vast majority of employees we polled no longer talk politics at work because
coworkers often become too forceful, even obnoxious, when expressing their views. Rather than deal
with coworkers who use abrasive debate tactics, they simply avoid political discussions altogether.2
Speaking of workplace reticence, 93 percent of the people we polled work day in and day out with a
person they find hard to work with, but nobody holds the person accountable because other employees
believe that it’s too dangerous.3 And speaking of danger, when it comes to risky acts, every day tens of
thousands of people watch their coworkers perform unsafe work practices, yet they remain silent. After
all, you don’t rat out a coworker, and, well, you certainly don’t talk directly to a peer about violating a
rule. It’s simply not done. You don’t want to look sanctimonious.
Or how about this problem? Over 70 percent of the project managers we studied admitted that they
were going to be hopelessly late on their current project because the deadline they were facing was
insane but nobody spoke up when it was first created. Nobody said to the bosses, “Could you please
involve us before you pick delivery dates?” In addition, when cross-functional team members put the
project at risk by failing to meet their commitments, we found there was less than a 20 percent chance
anyone would approach them honestly and discuss the broken commitment.4
The headlines reveal that this epidemic of silence cuts across virtually every aspect of our lives. For
instance, on the morning of January 13, 1982, a jumbo jet crashed into a bridge connecting Virginia to
Washington. All but 5 of the 79 people on board died. Later, investigators learned that the copilot was
concerned about the ice building up on the wings, mentioned it, was ignored, and then didn’t bring it up
again for fear of being too forceful with a pilot. Seventy-four people died from a single case of silence.5
Or how about the granddaddy of all flight debacles? The space shuttle Challenger broke into pieces in
front of a horrified nation because, as we later learned, several engineers were concerned that the O-rings
might malfunction but they didn’t say anything because nobody pushed back honestly with the bosses.6
And why? Because with certain people and circumstances you just don’t bring up infractions. Not with
a boss. Not with a pilot. Not with a doctor. Not with a colleague or relative. Oh yes, and not with
someone cutting in line.
DEALING WITH DISAPPOINTMENTS
So what would it take to change the mental math that is so frequently working against us? Is it possible
to turn the cost-benefit analysis around and return accountability to a woefully silent world?
To answer this, let’s return to our first study—the one where subjects believed that speaking up to a
line cutter wasn’t worth the risk. What if we taught people standing in line a script for dealing with a line
cutter? If we showed them a successful interaction, would they change their math enough to now stand up
to someone who cuts in front of them?
To find out, we added a twist to our research design. For our second round of line cutting, we cut in
front of a research colleague who was queuing up at the movie theater just like everyone else. Rather than
remain silent (as was the established norm), our colleague was instructed to abruptly say, “Hey buddy, get
to the end of the line like everyone else!” The offender (also from our research team) then apologized and
scurried to the end of the line.
And now for the fun part. We waited a few minutes and then cut in front of the person standing directly
behind our rather forceful colleague. Would the subject we cut in front of now speak up, maybe even using
the same script he or she had observed? The script had worked. The line cutter had gone to the end of the
line without causing a fuss. The mental math had to be somewhat different.
But apparently not enough different. Nobody who observed the abrupt model said a word when
confronted by a line cutter. Subjects explained that they didn’t want to act like the jerk whom they had
observed bluntly dealing with the line cutter. That was part of the reason most people remained silent in
the first place. They had no desire to behave like a thug, nor did they want to risk the ugly confrontation
that might follow a blunt verbal attack. They already knew how to be abrasive. Teaching them another
abrasive script changed neither their mental math nor their behavior.
In fact, most people who routinely revert to silence do so as a result of similar calculations. They have