Brother Jensen did not show up to teach his Sunday School class. He did not line up a substitute teacher. In fact, he did not even call a member of the Sunday School presidency to let them know he wouldn’t be able to teach. He just did not show, again.

Does this situation sound familiar? Perhaps one of the reasons people repeatedly fail to follow through on commitments is that we struggle to hold them accountable.

My co-authors and I recently studied what happens to individuals, teams and even entire organizations when underperformers abound. While it would be nice to find that slackers are few and far between, we unfortunately found that 93 percent of employees report working with people who don’t pull their weight. Even more disturbing than the prevalence of poor performance is what doesn’t happen, when it comes to dealing with a slacker. Our research found only 10 percent speak up and hold underperforming colleagues accountable. As a result, slacking co-workers cause a quarter of their hard-working colleagues to put in four to six more hours of work each week. And worse-four out of five say the quality of their own work declines when picking up others’ slack.

It turns out that when it comes to confronting a slacker, most people assume the conversation isn’t worth having. Reasons people list for staying silent include the belief that speaking up won’t make a difference, will undermine their relationship, or that it isn’t their place to confront the other person at all. Some even fear retaliation or just simply don’t know how to begin that type of accountability conversation.

Although we haven’t researched accountability specifically in our church or other non-profit organizations, I suspect if we did, our findings would be very similar, or worse. Holding others accountable in a volunteer church setting provides some unique challenges because we often feel bad for adding more to others’ already busy plates, we don’t want to hurt feelings or offend, we want to be kind and charitable and we hate being the bad guy.

Despite these challenges, we must remember to consider the risks of not speaking up, in addition to the potential risks of speaking up. What are the consequences of teachers not showing up for their classes? Of leaders planning poorly? Of assignments being missed? What happens when events are poorly attended or when efforts are lackadaisical?

The only way to help each other be more responsible is to hold each other accountable to fulfill our duties and commitments. Here are a few skills that can be used to hold others accountable in a way that builds relationships and helps improve outcomes.

1.Suspend judgments and get curious. Perhaps your fellow Saint is unaware of the effects of his or her actions. Enter the conversation as a curious friend rather than an angry superior. Ask yourself, why would a reasonable, rational person not follow through? Did they forget? Did something prevent them from fulfilling their responsibilities?

2.Make it safe. Don’t start by diving into the issue. Establish safety by letting your brother or sister know you respect him or her and remind him or her of the mutual goals you share. You might say, “Brother Jensen, I appreciate your willingness to accept the call to teach Sunday School. I know you love the youth and want to serve them, as do I.”

3.Share facts and describe the gap. Start with the facts of the issue and strip out accusatory, judgmental and inflammatory language. Then, describe the gap between what was expected and what happened. For example, “Last Sunday, I went to your class and you were not there. As near as I can tell, none of the presidency received a call from you beforehand, and a substitute teacher did not show up. What happened?”

4.Tentatively share concerns. Having laid out the facts, tell your brother or sister why you’re concerned. Help him or her see the natural consequences of his or her actions. You might say, “When you don’t show up to teach your class or make other arrangements, the youth are left without a teacher and none of us are prepared to cover or fill-in.”

5.Invite dialogue. Next, ask if he or she sees the problem differently. If you are open to hearing others’ points of view, they’ll be more open to yours. For example, “Do you see it differently? Help me understand what you are thinking.”

This simple approach does not guarantee every accountability problem will be solved. However, it does minimize defensiveness and disrespect. It also increases the likelihood that issues can be discussed and worked through in a respectful, loving way that solves problems and strengthens relationships.

 About Ron McMillan

Ron McMillan is the four-time New York Times best-selling co-author of Crucial Conversations, Crucial Confrontations, Influencer, and Change Anything. He is also the co-founder of VitalSmarts, an innovator in corporate training and organizational performance. VitalSmarts has consulted with more than 300 of the Fortune 500 companies and trained more than 800,000 people worldwide. For related content from Ron and his co-authors, please visit