Book Review: Crucial Accountability by Linshuang Lu

February 11, 2020

Crucial Accountability

Crucial Accountability by Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan, Al Switzler, David Maxfield, 2013, McGraw-Hill Education

Scenario 1: You have an employee who has trouble following through. She generally has a great attitude, always offering to help, but often stops short of completing the job (cleaning up her workspace for the next shift, completing documentation, following through with the customer etc.) You have talked to this person about the issue in the past. However, it still keeps happening.

Scenario 2: You have been hoping to get important information from another department for an important client deliverable. You have emailed the person you know in that department several times and still have not heard back. You have been experiencing challenges with responsiveness from him, but you have not had any conversation with him about it yet. It is a little tricky because he is not in the same department as you and he always acts as though his department is more important than yours.

Even though the details are not the same, these are likely familiar scenarios for any workplace. You probably have an instinct of what you might do in these situations. If you are like many of us, you are coping with the situation, finding workarounds, complaining to others, and avoiding a conversation with the person. The prospect of an accountability conversation makes many of us anxious; we imagine the defensiveness, the resistance, and our own strong emotions. And yet oftentimes, a conversation is the best chance we have of improving the situation.

This is a practical book to guide you through those conversations, including many sample conversations, from personal and professional settings. For those of you familiar with Crucial Conversations, this takes a deeper dive into a specific type of crucial conversation focused on accountability—what do you when somebody fails to meet expectations?

A few notable areas the book explores:

Preparing emotionally and mentally for the conversation. This involves getting clear about your goals for the conversation and being genuinely curious and empathetic to what the other person’s story might be. The authors emphasize the importance of keeping the accountability conversation safe, so the other person does not withdraw and get defensive. Getting clear about your intentions for the conversation, and being open to a complex, nuanced view of the situation is important.

Using the CPR concept. What is the accountability conversation about? Is this conversation about Content (a one-time instance where expectations are not met), a Pattern (a continued pattern where expectations are not met), or the Relationship (you have had multiple conversations about the Pattern, and trust is beginning to deteriorate in the relationship)?

Making behavior change motivating and easy for the other person. If you have ever tried to break a bad habit, or build a good habit, you know that it takes more than an explanation. Changing behavior requires a deeper exploration into what motivates a person or what enables a person to make a shift. The book explores some common ways to do that.

Following up on the accountability conversation. After having a difficult conversation, how can you create conditions for successful follow-up?

The book is practical and relatable. We have adapted content from this in our leadership development programs. Anybody struggling to hold others accountable, whether senior leader, middle manager or an individual contributor, will find this book valuable.

Linshuang Lu