Note: This is post 2 of 7 of a series exploring social accountability. If this is your first blog to read in the series, catching up is easy: Start with the Great Expectations: Why the Best Leaders Create Social Accountability entry and work your way forward.

In our last post, we introduced the concept of social accountability. A quick recap: Social accountability exists when one or more individuals commit to meeting or exceeding the expectations of another. The people doing the committing feel obligated to deliver because they’re connected to the vision and process in a social, human way, which is incredibly powerful.

Social accountability is more essential to performance today than ever. As authors Roger Connors and Tom Smith suggest in their book How Did that Happen, “The workplace has become too complex for the old methods used to create accountability. The new generation of workers differs markedly from the Greatest Generation Ever that fought World War II, that generation’s baby boomer children, and even the more recent Generation X. If you don’t respect these difference with a new management style, you can hardly expect these workers to respond to you with the enthusiasm and hard work you expect.”

There are five simple steps a leader can take to create social accountability. In this post, we’ll tackle step one: forming clear expectations.

Aim high.

When you set out to define expectations, start by asking yourself: What is the best result I can imagine? What would thrill me? Often, when we’re too conservative and outline “good” instead of “best” expectations, we’re setting our team up to fail because “good” may not be good enough. So dream big.


Next, to pinpoint your best expectations, enlist the help of those who will actually see them through. Form your expectations with the input of those who are going to make these goals happen. This exchange of ideas is absolutely essential: Only mutually understood and agreed-upon expectations will cause people to commit to a goal in every way, from method to timeline.


Another key component of establishing expectations effectively is prioritizing. Focus the lion’s share of your energy on what you and your team recognize as key expectations. To rank your expectations, ask yourselves the following questions: Are the stakes for this expectation high? Are there serious consequences if it isn’t met? If the answer is yes, it’s a key expectation, deserving of your team’s best thinking, full commitment, cooperation, and effort.

Remember: If every single expectation is treated as red-letter, focus is diluted and people won’t recognize any expectation as a big deal. Choose wisely.

Be clear.

Our best expectations generally share a few characteristics. Use this checklist as a guide when trying to create expectations that are as clear as possible:

  • Is the expectation specific and time-bound? Do you have an end point when the expectation should be met? Have you defined the timetable in a way the entire team can understand?
  • Is your expectation measurable? Can progress be tracked so that the ultimate fulfillment of the expectation can be determined? In other words, have you crafted and expressed an expectation in a way that people can see the entire path to success and will be able to know where they are on that path, as well as when they’ve reached the goal?
  • Is your expectation attainable? Is the expectation achievable considering current resources and capacity constraints? Do the people who will be making the expectation happen know what they need to know? Do they have what they need, including time and other tools?
  • Is your expectation relevant? Is your expectation consistent with your organization or team’s current vision, strategy, and priorities? Does it fit with who you say you are? Does it reflect what you say is important to you? Does it support overarching goals you are currently trying to accomplish?
  • Is your expectation repeatable? Can the expectation be communicated and understood throughout the chain of command and within the work group? In other words, is your expectation easy to repeat? Will all listeners be able to get the same message, no matter who is sharing the expectation?

The selection and crafting of expectations is the vital first step to creating social accountability, which is a key to galvanizing your team’s potential. When we start building social accountability, an entire new world of possibility opens for us.

Next up: We’ll discuss step two in creating social accountability: communicating and reaching alignment. Are you All-In?