The Language of Accountability: “Glossary of Failure” ™ or put simply, The language which leads to relationship and project failure. (Part Two of Three)

The Glossary of Failure

wwa-book-badgeLanguage used to forecast relationship or project failure is called the “Glossary of Failure.” It’s ambiguous, lack’s specificity and will assuredly lead to disappointment, failure and bad feelings. Ambiguity and generalizations lead to disappointment.

Here’s a good example. If you ask three people what “ASAP” means to them, you’ll probably get three different answers as to the specific timeframe in which “ASAP” is carried out.

Now, let’s say I’m promising an external customer a new copier and I’m relying on you to complete the service contract. You tell me you’ll get it to the customer ASAP – an ambiguous answer. How can I make a real delivery commitment to that customer?

Or, what about the ambiguous “I’ll get right on it”? Do you mean you’ll do the task immediately … or as soon as you finish reading your e-mails … or after you’ve had lunch? When is “right on it”?

Don’t confuse the Glossary of Failure with lack of intention. Sometimes, “I’ll get right on it,” means that they have great intention and, in fact, really intend to complete the project. You don’t want to dampen their enthusiasm but you do wish to clarify the commitment.

Intentions can’t be measured. The employee who promised to “get right on it” may have had no intention of getting to your project this afternoon, the next day or even this week. That’s not lack of accountability. That’s grounds for termination due to lack of interest.

Suppose someone says they are going to have a report “by the end of the day.” So, what’s “the end of the day” for you? Is it 5 p.m.? Is it your bedtime? Or, does the end of the day come when the clock strikes midnight? Who knows and how can the person be held accountable for an ambiguous answer?

If you’re working with branch offices around the country or around the globe, the “end of the day” occurs at many different times. Let’s say you’re working on the East Coast and someone on the West Coast promises a completed task by the end of the day. Is that Eastern Standard Time or Pacific Time? Is it at 5 p.m. on your coast or 5 p.m. on their coast?

Even things that seem obvious can be a part of the Glossary of Failure. What about a promise to complete a project by the end of the year? If your corporation works on a fiscal year, that could be August or September or October. If it works on a calendar year, it’s December – but is it the first of December or the last day of December?

As you are probably observing, these types of ambiguities are all part of the Glossary of Failure … and every one of these vague phrases increases the chances of relationship or project failure.

Here are some of the biggest offenders from the Glossary of Failure:

  • Soon
  • ASAP
  • Right away
  • I’ll get right on it
  • The end of the day/week/month/year
  • Later
  • Try
  • Should
  • Best
  • Might
  • By the “next time” we meet
  • We

So what can you do to neutralize this ambiguity? Begin using the language of specificity.

High-Accountability Language

The opposite of the Glossary of Failure is the Language of Specificity.

Instead of saying, “I’ll have this report on your desk ASAP,” you say, “I’ll have that report on your desk by 1 p.m. this afternoon.”

Rather than saying, “We’ll have the project completed by the end of the day,” tell your counterpart, “I’ll have it wrapped up by Tuesday, June 13th at 10 a.m., your time.”

Like the three most important rules of real estate are “location, location, location,” the three most important rules in creating an accountability culture are “specificity, specificity, specificity.”

Practice making commitments, using the Language of Accountability by saying, “I will do it on ‘X’ date at ‘X’ time.”

The Language of Specificity includes:

  • What date and time should I follow up with you to make sure the loop is closed?
  • Who owns it?
  • I own it!
  • Will (e.g., “I will’ in lieu of “try,” “should,” or “might.”)
  • Here’s what it will look like when it is completed.
  • Using the Language of Specificity will increase accountability and strengthen the accountability culture within your organization.

As you practice avoiding the Glossary of Failure and increase your mastery of the Language of Specificity, you’ll see your performance increase. High-performing leaders are skilled at listening for ambiguity in language and replacing it with specificity.

Remember the four steps of acquiring new language – hearing, recognizing, understanding and speaking? You will experience this same sequence as you become highly skilled at listening for specificity.

You’ll also move through these same four phases as you begin using the Language of Specificity when asking for – and making – commitments and building a Culture of Accountability within your organization.

Thank you for reading the first two (of three) installments of chapter three. Next release, we’ll continue with more free content from our best selling book “Winning With Accountability, The Secret Language of High Performing Organizations”. In that article, we will expose the “glossary of failure”™, or put simply: the language which leads to relationship and project failure.

Want to know more about creating accountable cultures? Take our free assessment or buy the book here.

For more information about Winning With Accountability, the book that introduces the simple method to help any individual build Accountability in to their culture in an emotionally intelligent way, click here.

As always, we welcome your comments. Join us on facebook to share your experiences or email us at [email protected]

Henry Evans, Managing Partner of Dynamic Results and author of the best selling book, “Winning with Accountability: the Secret Language of High Performing Organizations.” If you tuned into us last month, we gave you the first part of Chapter three of this book, we introduced the idea of accountability gaps. In the second part of Chapter three, which we’re giving you this month, we’re going to talk to the specific kind of language that is a good predictor of future relationship and project failure, as well as what the language of specificity sounds like. Finally next month, we’re going to give you some of the best practices that our highest performing clients deploy in order to stay ahead of their competition. Hope you enjoyed this month’s article and look forward to seeing you again next month.

With the global success of our best-selling book “Winning With Accountability, The Secret Language of High Performing Organizations” (now in its fifth edition) we are giving you the third chapter in three installments. In this, the second installment, we are sharing the “Glossary of Failure”.

Please enjoy chapter three with our compliments.

The following text is copyrighted material from the best selling book;
“Winning with Accountability, the Secret Language of High Performing Organizations”

Your Role in Creating an Accountable Culture for Your Organization: How You Can Apply Our Accountability Method for Increased Business Results (Part Three of Three)

wwa-book-badgeState It Once

A Culture of Accountability also helps eliminate redundancy. Focusing solely on a problem and not on the solution wastes resources on redundancy. Everyone knows what the problem is … your energy and resources need to be focused on solving the problem. It may be productive to voice the problem once, but then it is time to move the momentum toward a solution to improve our position. Redundancy is not in many job descriptions.

A good example of the momentum of leadership would be a conversation like this:

Manager: “I’ve noticed Phil isn’t coming through with his assignments on time … and it’s getting to be a real problem for me.”

You: “I’ve also noticed that, too. What’s causing it? Where have we failed to set specific timelines and expectations?” In pointing out that the failure may be on leadership’s shoulders, you’re looking into the mirror to find solutions.

State the problem once, eliminate redundancy, and move toward the solution.

Reversing Momentum

Language momentum can be reversed … from any person in the organization.

Here’s an example:

In 1975, a movie about a mammoth killer shark was filmed. The title – Jaws. After this shark has eaten a few tourists, a town meeting is called where the mayor, the chief of police, the city council and some influential business owners are all in attendance.

Many see no other option but to close the local beaches to fend off any more attacks and more bad publicity. However, businesses in the community want to leave them open. This is the “high” season for tourists and closing the beaches now will bankrupt most of the community.

The argument goes back and forth between the two factions for several minutes. No ground is gained and neither of the two sides is willing to give an inch or find a compromise. The meeting is at a stalemate. The upper echelon of the town’s organizational chart is stuck in the problem. The arguing is getting louder and louder.

Then, the gut-wrenching sound of nails being dragged down the blackboard interrupts the argument. Suddenly the room is silent and necks are craned to see a simple fisherman sitting at the back of the room near the blackboard. When he has the room’s attention, he quietly offers, “I can kill that fish for $6,000.”

That pronouncement, made by the somewhat obscure and low-profile fisherman (who was probably not on anybody’s org chart), changed the entire momentum of the meeting … and also changed the direction and focus of an entire town. The simple fisherman had taken on the leadership role, and from that point forward, the town’s momentum had shifted to assembling the team that would kill that shark!

That’s the way it can work in any situation. It’s the leader’s job to reverse the momentum of negative interactions – and anyone can be the leader regardless of their position on the organizational chart. You can reverse the momentum by applying your skills and energy toward a new, positive outcome. When a conversation is in the past (with celebrations as an exception) you are probably focused on a “problem” or, perhaps, assigning blame. However, by changing the momentum and focusing the dialogue on the future, you are now working on a “plan.”

In short, you have the power to identify Accountability Gaps during interactions and fill them with Specificity. You have the power to identify when an interaction is “going negative” and reverse the momentum so that everyone involved in the interaction benefits!

Wipe out the Glossary of Failure within your team or your organization … use the Language of Specificity!

In the next four chapters, we will examine the four components of an accountability dialogue. This is where you learn to apply the language principles you just read. By including these

Four Pieces of the Accountability Puzzle in our language, we increase individual and organizational performance!


    • A Culture of Accountability is a culture where all team members hold each other accountable for their commitments in a positive and productive manner.
    • “Potholes” occur when specificity of language is missing, particularly in making commitments. These potholes can be filled in with specific and accountable information.
    • The Glossary of Failure contains the language we use that forecasts relationship or project failure. It’s ambiguous, lacks specificity and will assuredly lead to disappointment, failure and bad feelings.
    • The opposite of the Glossary of Failure is the Language of Accountability … the Language of Specificity.
    • It is the leader’s job to reverse the momentum of negative interactions and anyone can be the leader.

With the global success of our best-selling book “Winning With Accountability, The Secret Language of High Performing Organizations” (now in its fifth edition) we are giving you the third chapter in three installments. In this, the third installment, we share best practices for building and sustaining accountability in your culture.

Please enjoy chapter three with our compliments.

The preceding text is copyrighted material from the best selling book;
“Winning with Accountability, the Secret Language of High Performing Organizations”
As always, we welcome your comments. Join us on facebook to share your experiences or email us at [email protected].

An Interview with Author Henry J. Evans

An Interview with Author Henry J. Evans

Winning with AccountabilityIn the book “Winning With Accountability, The Secret Language of High-Performing Organizations,” (2008), author Henry J. Evans offers a step-by-step guide to help any organization improve performance by creating an accountability culture.

The book and the method it covers are in use by organizations ranging from multi-national corporations, to U.S. and European Executive MBA programs. In this interview, Mr. Evans answers questions about the system and how accountability can transform an organization.

Everyone is already accountable at some level for his or her job performance. How does your concept elevate accountability to a more crucial state?

“Great question! We provide a simple, accessible, easy to understand framework for making and requesting accountable commitments. By having a shared language, we decrease ambiguity and increase understanding in the workplace.”

Accountability requires a level of trust on the part of everyone involved. What should happen when a task is given to someone who doesn’t live up to expectations?

“We wrote about this in the book. Our next book will address this in more detail and in short: everyone makes mistakes. This should be expected. We feel that people who make redundant mistakes should be treated differently than those who make ‘new’ mistakes. Sometimes when an organization is looking at an individual with consistently poor performance, the organization may wish to ask itself ‘how many poor performers do we have?’ before it starts to drop a hammer on the individual in question. In other words, if you have too high a percentage of ‘poor performers’ within an organization, division, or workgroup, you may want to look at your hiring and training processes before you start singling someone out for corrective action. Additionally, you may have a performance problem with one of your leaders if you have a disproportionate number of low performers on one specific leader’s team.

For those who make redundant mistakes and don’t express a willingness to change, you may want to help them exit the organization. We believe that if you have sound assessment and hiring processes on the front end, this is usually not the case. Our Accountability Method provides a framework for setting and reviewing expectations on the individual and team levels.”

A key component of your strategy is the language of specificity, in both written and verbal communications. Sometimes, though, we are trained to soft-pedal our language in dealing with co-workers. How can we re-train ourselves to be more specific?

“One best practice we recommend is to work through your last few days’ e-mails in your ‘sent items’ and ‘clean them up.’ This means that for every request or promise you’ve made in the last few days, you re-write people and fill in the pieces of our Accountability Puzzle that were missing from your original request or promise. Lastly, contract with your team members so that it is okay for people to check in with one another on the current state of particular commitments. This sounds like ‘Hey Rajiv, I know you are committed to making it safe for others to check in with you. How is it going with your financial projections for the Western half of the United States? I know they are due tomorrow at 3 p.m.’”

You stress the importance of an accountability partner, someone who you trust to keep you on track and check you when you go off track. What are the qualities you should look for when choosing an accountability partner?

“First, your accountability partner should not be your boss or direct report. Your accountability partners should be:

  • At a peer level (or outside of the organization).
  • Someone who has your best interests at heart.
  • Someone you trust.
  • Someone who is assertive enough to call [nonsense] on you when you are dancing around an issue.”

Front-loading accountability is a great idea, and yet many tasks and projects are tackled head-on without clear expectations. How do you overcome this in an organization?

“I just left a client organization yesterday after facilitating a day of strategic planning and implementation with them. They keep our Accountability Posters on their conference and meeting room walls for the express purpose of checking in the ‘quality’ of commitments being made in each meeting. They also allow time at the end of each meeting to address action items and lastly, they start each meeting with a review of the action items identified in their previous meeting. We have other best practices as well: try embedding the four pieces of our accountability puzzle in your requests and commitments.”

Your book says that in a high-accountability culture, it is important to first focus on yourself. How can this self-reflection help others become more accountable, other than mirroring the behavior?

“Now for me, this is a deep question. The answer certainly transcends our method and in my opinion, involves some best practices for life. A lot of the work we do in client organizations is getting all members of a team to self-reflect before they begin to externalize the root cause of the challenges they are experiencing. We believe that we have the greatest impact on organizations that allow us to catalyze this type of change. In other words, self-reflection is more powerful as a culture than it is at the level of one (or a few) individual(s) when working towards organizational change.”

Most people are familiar with S.M.A.R.T. goals, but you take it two steps further, with S.M.A.R.T.E.R. goals. Why is it important to add “Ethical” and “Recorded” to the list?

“We spend a lot of time on this in our workshops. In short, if you want people to do their best work, what you are asking them to do must be aligned well with the values they thought they were signing up for when they first joined your organization. For example: If all I value is money and my ethics allow me to lie in order to earn it, I will fit very well into a project team which is tasked with making a profit ‘at any cost.’ In my experience, most people don’t fit this description.

‘Recorded’ simply means that accountability is created when someone else knows about your commitment.”

Deadlines worry most people, and your proposal to focus on timelines instead seems much more appealing. How are timelines just as effective as deadlines?

“We don’t mean to convey that one is more important than the other. We do mean to convey that they are different. In school, most of us were taught about deadlines, which is ‘when the work is due’ and we received very little training on timelines, which is ‘when the work gets done.’ We recommend that clients manage their calendars based on what they have already identified as ‘most important.’ We have a process for doing this with and for clients in our Executive Coaching practice.”

Sending accountability up the ladder is a daunting mission for most of us. How can we be truthful about accountability without some trepidation about the process?

“You should have some trepidation when going ‘upstream.’ If dealing with a difficult boss, we recommend using a permissive approach. ‘Hey boss, if I had something to share that might be difficult for you to hear and from my perspective was important for you to hear, when and where would you want me to share it?’ We warn you, if your boss tells you they don’t want to hear it, believe them.”

Your “Glossary of Failure” should occupy a place on everyone’s bulletin board. What are some techniques we can use with our Accountability Partners to make sure we are more specific?

“That’s nice of you to say. Tell people you are working on being more specific and invite them to ask you for more specific information when they hear you being ambiguous. When they do check in, thank them.”

How do you avoid giving too many tasks to your “go to” person?

“Having a regularly occurring and reciprocal feedback loop. An introvert and/or people with certain cultural backgrounds will continue to accept requests from you even when it is sinking their ship with too heavy a load. You need to be checking in (looking people in the eyes) when you are monitoring their workloads. Lastly, we have a theory about what percentage of the time people should be doing what they are best at. The number is 80% and we will write much more about this in our next book.”

Winning with AccountabilityHenry J. Evans is the founder and Managing Partner for Dynamic Results, LLC, which provides coaching and consulting solutions to companies and individuals. He provides performance coaching to independent executives, as well as those in national organizations, helping each achieve their desired goals. You can buy a copy of his book here.

Winning with AccountabilityWant to know more about creating accountable cultures? Take our free assessment and buy the book here.

As always, we welcome your comments. Join us on facebook to share your experiences or email us at [email protected].

State It Once: One Way to be the Leader in any Interaction

“State It Once” means you should, in a productive and constructive way, name a problem if a problem exists. This might be a problem with somebody’s behavior, it could also be a problem with a process. But, it’s never good to just leave it alone and not mention it. By Stating It Once, you call attention to the problem, you put it on the table where people can look at it and you acknowledge its existence.

If you are now starting to repeat the problem or having a redundant discussion about a person’s shortcoming, you are starting to ruin their reputation, demean them and you are also not helping us solve the problem. We suggest that the best thing to do is that after a problem has been stated once, which again that’s productive and constructive, it’s time to change the momentum of the discussion from the acknowledgement of the problem to a solution.

It might sound like this: if I were late to meetings and that were bothering you and a colleague – one of you might say,

“You know, Henry’s late to meetings and I find it disrespectful.”

And the other person might say, “You know, you’re right.”

And here is where the leadership moment happens. Instead of saying, “Yeah, you’re right, Henry is always late to meetings and that drives me crazy too.” They say:

“You’re right, Henry’s always late, what do you think might be causing that?”

Or, “You’re right, Henry’s late, is there anything going on in his personal life that could be causing that?”

Or, “You’re right, Henry’s late, what do you think the root cause is and what can we do to help him be on time?”

If you hear what’s happening in that moment, this person’s kind of doing a judo throw. They are changing the momentum of the interaction so that it becomes a solution oriented one. And we think that the leaders in an organization are the people who do that habitually.

Whenever they hear that negative momentum, they immediately convert it to a solution oriented dialogue. We are saying that those leaders can come from ANY area of an organizational chart, your title doesn’t matter. Our next book is going to focus on moments like this and these are the moments when you can create leadership wherever you are on the org chart.

Thank you for spending time with us again this month and we look forward to seeing you again next month.

 The preceding text is copyrighted material from the best selling book;
“Winning with Accountability, the Secret Language of High Performing Organizations”

Want to know more about creating accountable cultures? Take our free assessment and buy the book here.

As always, we welcome your comments. Join us on facebook to share your experiences or email us at [email protected].