Book Review of How Did That Happen?: Holding People Accountable for Results the Positive, Principled Way by Roger Connors and Tom Smith

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This Book Review of How Did That Happen?: Holding People Accountable for Results the Positive, Principled Way by Roger Connors and Tom Smith is brought to you from Shannon Colborne from the Titans of Investing.

Genre: Human Resources & Personnel Management
Author: Roger Connors and Tom Smith
Title: How Did That Happen?: Holding People Accountable for Results the Positive, Principled Way (Buy the Book)


According to accountability experts Roger Connors and Tom Smith, the collapse of the global financial markets in 2008 will go down in history as the most significant “How did that happen?” business story in the last fifty years. The best selling authors have crafted a clear and systematic accountability approach that helps prevent the surprises that often blindside organizations.

Their developed accountability process empowers business leaders to establish the right expectations and manage unmet expectations in a positive, principled way that inspires people, makes them feel good about their work, and produces results.

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The Accountability Sequence is divided into two parts: the Outer and the Inner Ring. The Outer Ring focuses on establishing expectations and laying the foundation for effectively holding people accountable. This portion of the ring includes forming, communicating, aligning and inspecting your expectations.

From there you move to the Inner Ring, where you engage in the accountability conversation to determine the best way to deal with unmet expectations. During this conversation, leaders concentrate on the four main causes of missed delivery: poor motivation, inadequate training, lack of personal accountability and an ineffective culture.

The model emphasizes an inseparable connection between expectations and accountability. No matter the situation, you hold people accountable for one thing: the expectations you set for them.

Accountability Concepts:

  • The Expectations Chain
  • Making the “Why” Compelling
  • Moving the Boulder
  • Capturing the Heart and Mind
  • Managing the Accountability Current
  • Organizational Integrity

How Did That Happen? explains what accountability is, why it may be lacking, how to create it, and most importantly, how to manage it. Roger Connors and Tom Smith believe when people invest their hearts and minds to meet and exceed expectations, they will deliver exceptional results that will never leave you asking, “How did that happen?”


When the stock market crashed in October 2008, the United States was blindsided and the world was sent into a global financial crisis. The impact of the sudden crash reached far beyond our nation’s borders and bank failures in Europe were proof even the most developed countries were feeling the pain.

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The devastating decline of the world’s financial markets left everyone from financial experts to the average Joe asking the same question: “How did that happen?” The world had been caught off guard and couldn’t believe how fast the economy seemed to be deteriorating.

After initially asking “How did that happen?” people wanted to know “Who should be held accountable?” You could point your finger at a number of culprits.

The government policy that failed to regulate the mortgage industry, the rating institutions that deemed mortgage backed securities “safe investments”, the home buyers- who assumed they would be able to sell their homes before they could not afford the interest rate, and the banks that lent them the money.

Let us not forget the experts at many Wall Street financial institutions that created complex financial instruments that no one really understood. Whether they wanted to admit it or not, these key players were all caught in a severe issue of accountability.

Co-Founders of Partners in Leadership Inc. and bestselling authors, Roger Connors and Tom Smith have devoted more than twenty years to the study and teaching of accountability because they believe it is the single largest contributor to the success of individuals, teams and organizations.

In their book, How Did That Happen?, Roger Connors and Tom Smith explain the sequential accountability steps that help prevent the surprises that often blindside organizations. Their well-crafted process enables business leaders to establish the right expectations and manage unmet expectations in a positive, principled way that inspires people and produces results.


The Accountability Sequence is divided into two parts: the Outer and the Inner Ring.

The Outer Ring focuses on establishing expectations and laying the foundation for effectively holding people accountable. This portion of the ring includes forming, communicating, aligning and inspecting your expectations.

From there you move to the Inner Ring, where you engage in the accountability conversation to determine the best way to deal with unmet expectations. During this conversation, leaders concentrate on the four main causes of missed delivery: inadequate training, poor motivation, an ineffective culture and a lack of personal accountability.

The model emphasizes an inseparable connection between expectations and accountability. No matter the situation, you hold people accountable for one thing: the expectations you set for them. Connors and Smith believe the process of managing expectations is the act of holding people accountable.


The question, “How did that happen?” usually places full accountability on those who failed to deliver and doesn’t help a leader understand what they could have done to prevent the situation.

A more effective question to ask when faced with disappointment would be, “How did I let that happen?” By adding two simple words to the question, you shift the attention from what everyone else didn’t do, to what you can do to improve the situation. Once you take accountability for your part in the failure, you empower yourself to get more done through others.

The authors reference a CEO who was forced to accept his role in unmet expectations after he failed to stay connected to his team.

The CEO had told members of the management team to solve things on their own while he focused on finding potential investors to fund their next stage of growth. Despite the team’s failed effort to fix problems and deliver expected results on their own, they remained silent because they knew the success of the company depended on the CEO’s ability to raise capital.

Upon reflection, the CEO recognized his lack of engagement with the team and realized the importance of sharing accountability (20). Including yourself in the accountability equation, according to Connors and Smith, enables you to learn from your experiences, create positive relationships with your team, and develop a culture in which everyone gives their best effort because they feel motivated by principles that are perceived as right and fair to them. Adding the two additional words “I let” encourages a major change in the way you look at and solve problems.

Forming Expectations

To effectively hold someone accountable, you must first form clear and concise expectations. Deliberately forming expectations is essential to the success of an organization and begins with defining the Expectations Chain.

This chain consists of all the individuals who are connected to each other, both up-line and down-line, who depend on one another to fulfill expectations. Identifying where expectations originate, as well as the people you depend on, will help you craft expectations that apply to everyone involved.

FORM Checklist

Connors and Smith recommend applying the FORM checklist when developing expectations. The FORM acronym is a practical device that reminds leaders to carefully consider the four crucial elements of key expectations by asking, “Is the expectation Framable, Obtainable, Repeatable and Measureable?”

A Framable expectation is consistent with the current vision, strategy, and business priorities.

To ensure an expectation is Obtainable, check to make sure it is achievable in terms of current resources and capacity restraints. Repeatable expectations are simple, clear, and easily communicated through the expectations chain. Lastly, the idea of a Measurable expectation encompasses the ability to track and monitor the progress toward achieving the expectation. Failing to form a clear expectation before communicating it to others has detrimental effects on the organization as a whole.

Communicating Expectations

After establishing clear expectations, the Outer Ring focuses on communicating key expectations in a way that allows people to fully understand what is expected of them and why it is imperative to deliver. Most leaders are familiar with the straightforward “What-When” approach of communicating expectations.

Connors and Smith, however, emphasize a “Why-What-When” approach that better engages the hearts and minds of people, and motivates them to follow through. If correctly implemented, this method not only helps people understand the task, but it creates the buy-in necessary to ensure a successful outcome.

Making the “Why” Compelling

The “Why” should strike a nerve in the individual; it should convince them that accomplishing the “What” and “When” matters to them on a personal level. To further explain this concept, the authors included an example that emphasized the impact of creating excitement around new expectations. During an important company-wide meeting, the Vice President announced the roll-out of a new initiative.

He explained what the change was going to require operationally and provided the necessary logistical facts. After lunch, the President spoke only about the “Why”. He explained the value created by the initiative would not only benefit everyone financially, but also enhance their job satisfaction and pride in the company.

After the meeting, employees talked enthusiastically about the new plan and eagerly anticipated its implementation (60-61). Effectively communicating the “Why” sends the message to your team that you respect them, and see them as key contributors in accomplishing goals. A compelling “Why” should be should be honest, forthcoming and tailored to your specific audience.

Aligning Expectations

Complete Alignment of expectations brings people to a level of agreement where they believe in, and completely commit themselves to fulfilling expectations. When a leader is able to bring a person to Complete Alignment, they not only invest their “hands and feet” in the task, but also their “hearts and minds”.

When people whole-heartedly agree with the mission, they are energized in a way that ignites a chain reaction. The mere presence of a completely aligned person improves everyone else’s alignment in the Expectation Chain. When an organization achieves this type of alignment, people speak with conviction about the importance of what they are doing and they fully invest themselves in getting the job done.

Moving the Boulder

When faced with a particularly daunting challenge, the power of the complete alignment chain reaction is most evident. The authors recall the 1999 Phoenix Open golf tournament in which Tiger Woods hit his tee shot left of the fairway.

The ball was well in-bounds, but landed near a boulder that would interfere with his swing toward the green.

Although the boulder was the size of a truck and estimated to weigh nearly a ton, the officials decided the boulder was in fact “loose impediment.” Tiger then asked the gallery if they would assist him in moving the rather large “loose impediment.”

After much heaving, pushing and finally cheers, the boulder was moved out of Tiger’s way (80). Much like the boulder in Tiger’s case, a group’s ability to accomplish their goals depends heavily on getting everyone in the Expectations Chain to push in the same direction, from the same side.

Inspecting Expectations

A positive, principled inspection is a thoughtful and planned activity and should, “assess the condition of how closely key expectations are being fulfilled, assure continued alignment, provide needed support, reinforce progress and promote learning, all in order to bring about the delivery of expected results” (99). As you inspect how closely expectations are being met, people begin to recognize and accept the fact you are serious about holding them accountable.

Providing Needed Support

Inspections should serve as a “check in” to discus progress, problems, and solutions. These conversations provide an opportunity for leaders to help people succeed while ensuring that expectations are being fulfilled. The leader should step into the role of a mentor to provide necessary support, and make people believe they can overcome their problems and mistakes.

When people feel supported, they’ll get the job done, they’ll solve problems that arise along the way, and you will be pleased with the results they achieve. A mentor should focus on facilitating solutions that build on the strengths of the individual and offer additional training or resources if necessary.


Despite your best effort to form, communicate, align and inspect expectations, you cannot completely prevent disappointments from occurring. The Inner Ring of the Accountability Sequence shows you how to diagnose problems and implement strategies for dealing with surprises regarding unmet expectations.

When people fall short of expectations, the authors suggest engaging them in the accountability conversation, which aims to improve the performance of those in the Expectations Chain. Before doing so, you should make sure the problem does not stem from the Outer Ring (Forming, Communicating, Aligning or Inspecting expectations). Ask yourself, “Did I follow through with the four steps?” If you have, Connors and Smith recommend moving to the Inner Ring to find a solution (Training, Motivation, Culture and Accountability) to the problem.


If you believe a team is falling short of expectations due to a deficiency in training, then you would want to provide training that fixes the problem at hand, but also increases the aptitude of everyone in the long run Expectations Chain. Training accelerators can help speed up the process and ensure the return of large dividends in the long term.

On a personal level, request a commitment from your team to adopt the training.

You can gain this commitment by using the steps in the Outer Ring of the Accountability Sequence. Next, streamline communication by making sure both the trainer and learner understand how they personally deliver and receive messages, and the communication format that works best for others.

Proper feedback during training can make a positive impact on the success of training both in the short and long run. A leader should not only deliver constructive feedback frequently, but also help people apply the feedback. Lastly, most people learn best when someone shows them how to do something, rather than simply tells them. Demonstrating how to do something yourself and role-playing practical situations can greatly accelerate the training process.


In certain cases, lack of motivation can easily be spotted as the culprit of unmet expectations. Research has proven people become motivated when given a compelling reason to work hard on the cause at hand. When the cause matches their own personal goal, they will work even harder to achieve the desired results.

To illustrate this idea, the authors described a hospital that was struggling to achieve a simple goal of obtaining complete next-of-kin information when patients first arrived. The manager was extremely frustrated with the lack of progress and found herself constantly reminding her staff of the goal.

During one of the workshops, it dawned on the manager that if she truly wanted to see an improvement, she needed her staff to understand the “Why” behind the policy. She decided to bring the team together to convince them of the importance of gathering the information.

She explained a life or death situation that involved a college student who became unresponsive to treatment and passed away.

After identifying the family, they learned the student had been taking medication, a fact they would have discovered had they been able to access the next-of-kin information when the patient became unresponsive. The manager stressed the fact that this pertinent information would have enabled doctors to take the necessary steps to save the patient’s life (146).

This story hit close to home for the staff and captured their attention in a different way. Once the team developed a personal connection with the reason behind the expectation, they became motivated.

Capturing the Heart and Mind

Once you have determined a cause that makes people believe they can make a difference if they accomplish it, you must work to enroll others in the cause. The authors suggest crafting a compelling story with a plot, setting, and characters to capture people’s imaginations and inspire them to achieve the objective.

It is essential to become a good storyteller who persuades and convinces people in the Expectations Chain to buy into the cause.

A good storyteller continues to support the cause publically by reinforcing the story with additional supporting evidence and re- telling the story over time. Lastly, a great leader should celebrate the cause and acknowledge progress in a public way. An example of a compelling and developed story is provided below:

“We, as an organization (the characters), have a unique opportunity to save lives and make our company more profitable by shifting our strategy over the next twelve months.

Our strategy (the plot) will shift from making pump infusion equipment to partnering with hospitals to ensure the safety of their patients by adapting to current technology in a way that will give hospitals an integrated system for monitoring patients status and administering the correct dosage of medications.

If we don’t make this shift and simply continue to focus on our current product offering, current market conditions and our two largest competitors (the antagonist) could ensure that we become obsolete as a company and fall prey to a hostile takeover, threatening jobs and our own company mission (the setting).

On the other hand, if we act now and successfully make the short-term sacrifices (the climax), we will advance patient safety, save thousands of lives every year, create a huge competitive advantage in the market place, provide even more job opportunities and amass unprecedented profits” (158).


Sometimes people fail to deliver on expectations because the culture of the organization undermines their ability to achieve results. The authors describe a Culture of Accountability as “a place where people think and act, on a daily basis, in the manner necessary to develop successful solutions, find answers, overcome obstacles, triumph over any trouble that might come along, and deliver results” (217).

By creating a culture of accountability, success becomes more predictable as people take personal ownership in doing everything in their power to do what they say they will do.

Organizational Integrity

Creating a truly accountable culture requires the establishment of the three values of Organizational Integrity. These values hold it all together, and are essential to the culture of a successful organization.

The authors have broken these values down into: Follow Through, Get Real, and Speak Up.

Following through on commitments allows others to trust you will keep your promises and always meet your deadlines. Get Real means to “get to the truth.” Creating an environment where people settle for nothing less than the truth helps everyone in the organization clearly see the actions they should to take in order to meet expectations.

The last value, Speak Up, emphasizes an environment where people are encouraged to say what needs to be said, no matter what. Organizational Integrity lies at the heart of keeping the individuals in the Expectations Chain connected in a way that produces results and maintains relationships marked by trust and respect.


When you have ruled out motivation and training as the reason your team is failing to meet expectations, insufficient personal accountability may be the solution. The authors explain personal accountability as, “a choice to rise above ones circumstances and demonstrate the ownership necessary for achieving desired results – to see it, own it, solve it and do it” (195).

Connors and Smith describe an accountability model, which helps designate the difference between people operating above and below the accountability line. People who take steps to obtain the perspectives of others and work to solve problems as they arise operate “above the line”. When team members begin pointing fingers and making excuses for missed delivery, they fall “below the line”.

A leader can help these individuals overcome the hesitancy and inaction that distinguish “below the line” behavior by helping them replace these attitudes and actions with results producing “above the line” characteristics.

Managing the Accountability Current

The Accountability Current is the directional flow in every organization that identifies where accountability stems from, and the direction it moves. Some organizations have relied on a top- down flow, which is characterized by individuals in authoritative positions taking on the responsibility of generating accountability.

However, the most effective leaders create a bottom- up flow that allows the current to flow towards them. When the Accountability Current flows in a bottom-up direction, people proactively take action, report back, raise issues, resolve problems, and make things happen. This type of accountability does not originate at the top of the expectations chain, but rather it begins with the individual.

For example, when a power plant company found itself with below-standard work safety records and worker compensation losses in the millions, its leadership team set to work creating a bottom-up Accountability Flow.

In the end, the effort resulted in positive results and all it took was a sharp increase in personal accountability on the part of every employee throughout the Expectations Chain. Now, before their work shift begins, employees conduct safety checks and search for problems that could potentially lead to safety incidents.

Employees also attend safety meetings for their teams and feel empowered to voice their concerns and implement creative suggestions that often affect everyone in the plant. The reversal of the accountability flow from top-down to bottom-up creates an environment that allows people to embrace accountability and take ownership for achieving results.


How Did That Happen? provides an explanation of what accountability is, why it may be lacking, how to create it, and most importantly, how to manage it. The authors lay out a clear and systematic approach for effectively holding other people accountable.

The model begins in the Outer Ring, which describes a leader’s need to focus on Forming, Communicating, Inspecting and Aligning expectations within the organization. After establishing expectations, the Inner Ring is used to help manage unmet expectations and engage in the accountability conversation. Most importantly, Roger Connors and Tom Smith have created a model that effectively eliminates the question, “How did that happen?” would like to thank the Titans of Investing for allowing us to publish this content. Titans is a student organization founded by Britt Harris. Learn more about the organization and the man behind it by clicking either of these links.

Britt always taught us Titans that Wisdom is Cheap, and principal can find treasure troves of the good stuff in books. We hope only will also express their thanks to the Titans if the book review brought wisdom into their lives.

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