A Research Paper By Douglas Cryns, Confidence Coach, GERMANY
Typical Pitfalls When Creating Accountability
The goal of this paper is to increase awareness of the typical pitfalls of setting up accountability frameworks. It achieves this first by explaining why accountability is so important, and how we set it up. I then delve into the typical accountability traps we fall into when we try to achieve our goals, the reasons why they happen, and the strategies we can apply to avoid them.
Background: My Accountability Framework
During my 2 years at ICA, I’ve also been a consistent client in a professional coaching relationship that has helped me develop my career. Throughout this time, over and over I have worked on multiple challenges. It has occurred to me that the larger part of the coaching conversation – revolving around setting goals, finding the why behind the what, and designing actions were generally the part that always went well. I’d leave each coaching session with a clear idea of what I wanted to do.
Often, these actions did not make it to my daily life at work. Or I only applied them for a short amount of time before a true behavioral change could take place.
I became interested in why after doing all the “hard work”, it was the clear actions that were most difficult to consistently execute. My accountability framework, the “small” part at the end of the coaching conversation, failed. In the following pages, I have taken a look at this challenge and tried to understand why this occurred, and what effective strategies exist to avoid this.
Where there is no accountability, there will also be no responsibility.– Sunday Adelaja
The Disadvantage of Ineffective Accountability
When we build and apply methods of accountability with our clients, we create a feeling of security. If the methods are applied diligently and consistently, we have a framework on which our clients achieve and reflect upon their goals regularly.
Often we are not aware of the risks of implementing these methods, the pitfalls that ultimately let us down. The false sense of security by an initial setup motivates our clients for a short while, only to taper and eventually take them a few steps backward, often unseen. The result is multifaceted, but common consequences can be:
- Sense of failure or “standing still”
- Loss of direction
- Loss of confidence in the ability to execute
- Lack of faith in the coaching process
- Loss of trust in ourselves and our coach
Why Is Accountability Important in Coaching?
In coaching, it is important for coaches to ensure clients have the support they need to follow through on their actions and achieve their goals. Support is not just tools, people, structures, and ways of approaching and measuring their goals, but also and perhaps primarily the methods to secure commitment during the process of getting there.
Of the many benefits that coaching provides, holding people accountable to their own goals and commitments would top that list and is a good way to gauge the talents of a coach. – John Polemis
Throughout our lives, accountability plays a key role for us in achieving our goals and many people thrive when being held accountable in a constructive fashion. Examples of this are:
- … home life as children – doing our chores
- … our time as school children – writing tests and measuring if we have studied hard
- … adult life and work – achieving the goals that are set out for us to achieve and hitting the markers for our bonus.
Coaching is no different here – but the system is somewhat different. We choose explicitly to be coached, so we must choose an effective method of being held accountable.
Building Effective Accountability Frameworks
In coaching, there are several techniques that can be applied and are effective if done well. Some can be contained within the Coach – Client relationship, some require third-party involvement, and some are between the client and a tool. I will write about the following two:
- Accountability Coaching
- Accountability Partner
Common Pitfalls and Strategies to Avoid Them
The task of the coach is to support the client in accountability. The most direct method is the role of the Accountability Coach. In this way, the coach not only helps the client plan his actions, the “what to do”, “when to do” and “how to do” of the end goal but also set specific and measurable goals to achieve. The coach then ensures to implement follow-ups to review progress with the client and helps the client analyze any setbacks.
Common pitfalls here happen when the former – creating the actions – works well, but the latter – staying on top of them and holding the client accountable – fails. This can become apparent in the following:
a.) A coach helps the client set goals and actions but doesn’t set specific, measurable, realistic goals that can be tracked
Problem: Often, the client will design a path forward – and be content with having a clear direction. During the coaching session, it is easy to get carried away with this elation and avoid digging a little deeper to let the client “ride the wave” of positivity.
Strategy: Useful strategies on the coach’s side can be to dig deeper into the goals – and ensure they fit the SMART goal framework. This ensures the client has direction and achievable steps to achieve the goals.
b.) Coach helps the client set goals and actions but doesn’t follow up regularly and keep a record of what the client has committed to
Problem: Each coaching session can bring common topics or new ground to be explored. It is easy to jump into new areas and overlook the topics and goals of the past.
Strategy: While concentrating on the client and using the session time for their wishes is important, it’s also key to involve some regular framework for checking in.
This can be a 5-minute segment at the beginning of each session, or perhaps a regular “monthly check-in” that goes over the coaching journey and goals in their entirety. To support this, it can be helpful if there is a method of recording the goals – this should ideally be owned by the client, but in some cases, the client may explicitly request that the coach support them directly.
b.) A coach helps the client set goals and actions but doesn’t celebrate successes
Problem: Holding a client accountable should not be just “ticking things off the list” and digging deeper into topics that have not been achieved. It also needs to be a celebration and acknowledgment of progress.
Strategy: The coach has a responsibility to support the client in recognizing progress, and while reviewing progress will often include some missed opportunities, it’s key to concentrate on achievements and invite the client to talk about what they have achieved.
This ensures that the client acknowledges the significance of their own work, cultivates a feeling of reward, and gains important insights and learnings for their future goals – facilitating growth.
d.) Coach helps the client set goals and actions but doesn’t facilitate analysis and improvement when setbacks are experienced
Problem: No journey is without setbacks – and just as it is important to recognize and acknowledge progress, so too it is important to talk about setbacks. As setbacks are “negative” in nature for the client, it can be tempting to gloss over failure and move on to new topics.
Strategy: As a coach, use setbacks to facilitate growth and manifest positive mindsets – what did the client learn? What opportunities are there to change the outcome in the future? What was in their control, that can be used to succeed? How do they respond to the setback (Reacting vs. Responding) and ultimately – what is their next step now?
An accountability partner can be a powerful method of “staying honest” about a client’s actions and goals. The client’s partner can be a friend, colleague, or peer on a similar journey.
An accountability partner is someone with whom you establish an ongoing, reciprocal relationship. Each member of the partnership commits to coach the other towards achieving their goals and to be held accountable for their progress towards their own. This relationship helps each partner to stick to their commitments. – David at ActionBuddy.io
Different from a coach, the accountability partner doesn’t necessarily work with a client to coach them or design the actions, but rather focuses on the “delivery” of the actions themselves. Through a partnership of commitment, each member of the partnership holds themselves accountable to the other for delivering on their promises.
Accountability partners work because the act of promising something to someone else and of having someone else invest time in our success creates a compulsion to repay those efforts and keep the promises.
Common pitfalls here can be of an organizational, structural, or relationship kind. Here are a couple of things to be aware of and some suggested strategies as a coach to help your client mitigate them:
Your client has an accountability partner, but it isn’t quite working because…
a.) Your client has an accountability partner, but it isn’t quite working because the relationship is one-sided.
Problem: They’ve identified a good partner due to an existing relationship, and asked them to be their partner. They make promises about their actions, but it’s become easy to let the promises slide as there is no reciprocal commitment to supporting each other’s goals.
Strategy: As a coach, it’s important to remind our clients that this relationship must be reciprocal to work effectively. Only if your accountability partner is putting in the work and delivering on their promise, will your feeling of wanting to deliver and honor the effort they are investing be encouraged.
b.) Your client has an accountability partner, but it isn’t quite working because the partnership has no clear structure
Problem: Similar to following up as a coach and having a structure around reviewing actions, this is also important to an accountability partnership. In particular, a partnership between friends can be quite informal and suffer distractions.
Strategy: As a coach, we can mentor our clients in building a working partnership. In particular – how to structure the session, how to use acknowledgment, how to approach setbacks and how to be a firm accountability partner.
c.) Your client has an accountability partner, but it isn’t quite working because there is a lack of commitment
Problem: The client meets regularly with their accountability partner, but there is a consistent lack of commitment and goals are not being met.
Strategy: The choice of an accountability partner is important, and as coaches, we can advise our clients on what to look for in a partner and how to be the best partner themselves. While it is important to get along, it is also important that both parties commit to the partnership. That does not just entail discussing their goals and investing time, but more importantly, also being firm towards each other and honest. To some extent that means “tough love” – calling out excuses, uncovering blindspots, and being direct – especially when establishing the partnership so that clear expectations are set.
Setting up Accountability Frameworks Effectively
Setting up accountability frameworks effectively is a powerful part of any coaching. The basics of accountability are clear, but the devil is in the details. For a coach, it’s key to be aware of those details and keep an open ear for any warning signs that our clients are having trouble staying accountable for their actions. When those signs appear, it’s then important to address the topic and dig deep to understand the cause. While this can often be uncomfortable (for both the coach and the client) the payoff is a valuable tool that will allow our clients to succeed and grow.