Creating a Culture of Accountability: How to Have Difficult Conversations

creating a culture of accountability: how to have difficult conversations

Think about the last time you and a friend tried to choose a place to eat. It might have gone something like this:

Where do you want to eat?

I don’t care, whatever you want is fine.


Well, I had Mexican last week…


Oh, pizza sauce gives me the worst heartburn…

Ten minutes later…let’s just have Mexican.

If you have been there, you know these conversations can drag on and lead to frustration and wasted time. The same thing happens when organizations avoid hard conversations, just with far greater consequences.

It is a natural tendency for many people to shy away from direct conversations to prevent hurt feelings or avoid becoming ostracized. These feelings date back to ancient times. Tribe members could not survive without the connection, protection, and resources of their tribe. Their survival instinct was to remain linked with a tribe by avoiding  potential conflict. Tribes had a deep sense of belonging.

Today, just like in ancient times, people want to feel like they belong to a group and do not want to be isolated. Giving direct feedback, can lead to a fear of becoming an outcast.

These natural tendencies can cause real problems to occur in organizations. When candid discussions are not happening in the workplace, it hurts engagement and morale and allows people to push the wrong agenda and side-step unproductive behaviors. Creativity, innovation and productivity all suffer.

creating a culture of accountability: how to have difficult conversations 1

In contrast, when organizations create a culture where people are open and honest through direct feedback and accountability, it leads to increased efficiency, engagement, motivation, and a high performing work environment.

In the right environment, the benefits of having hard conversations outweigh the fears that come with what some consider uncomfortable situations. It takes leadership and conscious work, but challenging conversations handled correctly prove to impact work culture positively.

Starting Difficult Conversations: How to Position Your Message

Hard conversations are…well, hard. There are practical ways to form clear and to-the-point discussions that prove useful to individuals and organizations. Before starting a difficult conversation, take time to consider these three things:

  • Intent: make sure the reason behind the conversation is to help an individual and create a better work environment.
  • Approach: position the message so the receiver can hear what is said.
  • Impact: think through how a conversation might affect an individual and the overall workplace.

It can be helpful to connect a conversation to a future goal. For example, if a specific behavior is potentially inhibiting a peer from receiving a promotion, you can tie that into the discussion:

I noticed you often interrupt speakers during meetings, and this could be holding you back from the promotion you are working toward.

Want to learn more? Take an in-depth look at how you can have hard conversations here.

Accountability on All Levels

Accountability keeps organizations on the right path and helps move them toward achieving success. Something as seemingly unimportant as accountability can separate good organizations from thriving organizations.

Having accountability on all levels means peer to peer, leader-to-employee, and even employee-to-leader. When organizations can embrace accountability on all levels, it produces many impactful benefits such as:

  • Mistakes being openly admitted and addressed
  • Increased performance
  • Creativity and Innovation
  • A culture where all team members contribute at their full potential

Accountability and hard conversations cannot stop at leader to employee feedback. When organizations implement 360 degree feedback and accountability, they cultivate a high performing environment.

Often organizations tend to start with what’s easiest, leader to employee accountability. Reed Hastings, Netflix CEO and co-author of No Rules Rules: Netflix and the Culture of Reinvention, says:

“I recommend instead focusing first on something much more difficult: getting employees to give candid feedback to the boss. This can be accompanied by boss-to-employee feedback. But it’s when employees begin providing truthful feedback to their leaders that the big benefits of candor really take off.”

Creating Real Change: Take the First Step

Creating space for open conversations and accountability on all levels is possible in every workplace. When you download, How to Have Hard Conversations, you will learn how to foster an environment that allows real change to occur and make a lasting impact in your organization.

This guide provides you with step-by-step instructions and practical application solutions to create a more efficient and open workplace culture on all levels.

Download the new resource now.

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