From reflecting information back to emphasizing win-win timelines, here are 14 answers to the question, “Can you share your most effective tips for holding your coaching/consulting clients accountable?”
TLDR: 14 Ways to Hold Your Client Accountable
- Parrot Back and Remind Them of their Whys
- Document Everything from Start to Finish
- Establish Clear and Measurable Goals
- Create Structures of Immediacy and Rigor
- Use Intrinsic Motivation
- Understand the Culture and Company Norms
- Rely on Project Management Tools
- Align Your Goals and Clarify their Expectations
- Stay on Track
- Input a Leadership Change Clause
- Coach Your Clients to Rely On Themselves
- Lead, Mentor, and Manage People First
- Share a Doc With Timelines and Due Dates
- Frame Win-Win Expectations for Timely Collaboration
Parrot Back and Remind Them of their Whys
When working with clients, it is important to set SMART goals and keep them accountable. First, I remind them of the goals they have set and why they chose the goal as their focus. Then, I ask them how they did toward achieving the goal. If they fell short, we discuss what the barriers were, and if they achieved it, we celebrate the success and stretch the goal for the next accountability meeting.
Document Everything from Start to Finish
Our job is to focus on the business matters that clients rely on us for so they can focus on their priorities and the things they love to do, even in their social life. With that said, I must have great communication, clear communication, written communication, and confirmations.
Outside of ensuring we communicate for directives and understanding, I hold them accountable through written communications to confirm or clarify, whether it is a quote, contract, or detailed email on the process and progress, timeframes, cost, and all. I also encourage ALL my clients to have this same procedure with their customers to avoid any issues, legal matters, and loss of time for projects.
Establish Clear and Measurable Goals
Establishing goals allows both the coach and client to track progress and determine if the client is meeting the objectives that they have set for themselves. Additionally, it is important to have regular check-ins and hold the client accountable for taking action towards achieving their goals.
This can be done by setting up regular meetings or calls and asking for updates on the progress made since the last session. It’s crucial to note that selecting the right type of client is the foundation of effective accountability in coaching. Choosing clients who are already accountable will save time and allow for more progress to be made toward achieving other objectives.
Create Structures of Immediacy and Rigor
Whenever my coaching or consulting clients tell me they are going to do something, the very next question I ask is “by when”? If I have a doubt that they will keep their word, I set up an automated text message immediately that will go out shortly after the deadline. If the task they are promising to do involves me, then I set a reminder for myself asking whether they did what they said they would do. And if they did not, I immediately follow up with a text or email.
Part of what works in holding people to account is being rigorous and immediate. Letting a follow-up languish sends a message of lackadaisicalness. Following up immediately signals rigor. Mostly, just creating those structures creates a context of accountability—and so, my clients typically fulfill their promises. Consequently, they get extraordinary results!
Use Intrinsic Motivation
The question is misleading. In truth, coaches don’t hold their clients accountable; clients do. If, as a coach, I dangle a carrot or hold out a stick to keep a client accountable, then the client will always require external motivation in order to achieve a goal.
The real shift that needs to happen is to move clients from extrinsic motivation (carrot/stick) to intrinsic motivation (self-propelled). When that happens, the client becomes self-motivated to achieve their goal.
Over the long haul, this is a much healthier view of accountability. When you own your goal, you don’t need me or anyone else to push you to do the work. My work as a coach is to ask the client how THEY want to be held accountable. Do you want me to give updates once per week, per month, or at the start of each session? Do you want me to send a gentle reminder to keep you on track? Then the coach assumes the proper role—as a partner, not the taskmaster.
Understand the Culture and Company Norms
From an anthropological perspective, one tip for holding clients accountable is to understand the organizational culture and norms within their company. By gaining insight into the values, beliefs, and practices that shape the organization, a consultant or coach can tailor their approach to align with these cultural norms.
This can include using language and communication styles that resonate with the client and adapting coaching or consulting methods to fit the organization’s existing practices. Building trust and developing strong relationships with clients can also help hold them accountable, as they will be more likely to take ownership of the goals and objectives defined in the coaching or consulting process.
Rely on Project Management Tools
Having worked both agency-side and as an independent consultant across a career spanning 20 years, I’ve seen firsthand that the best way to keep clients accountable and on track is by using online project management tools. Not only do these tools set you up for success from Day One, but they also show the client that you’re experienced, organized, and structured—something that often then rubs off on the client too!
By itemizing tasks and adding them to a project management tool, you can then keep a close track of who does what, and by when. It’s a great way to structure weekly calls too, as you both have something to focus on and work towards. These tools don’t have to be overcomplicated either—it could be a simple Google sheet structured into a calendar format, or it could be cloud-based tools like Trello or Asana, which are visually engaging too.
Align Your Goals and Clarify their Expectations
The best way to hold clients accountable is simple to say, but harder to get right. It requires honesty, truth, and clarification of expectations (yours and theirs). Truly understand what your client wants out of your work together.
It might be what they came to you with and asked straight off, or it might be something deeper. Being clear from the outset will help you work together towards that common goal. It’s important to determine how you will work together. That clarity from the outset sets you and your client up for success. Be clear about how regularly you will check in and who handles what in the roadmap to meet the goals set out.
Stay on Track
Time management is important when focusing on achieving your goals. The one tip I have for holding my clients accountable is to recap where we left off and when we finish a meeting.
I make sure they are clear on what the assignments are that they committed to, with specific dates and times of completion. In between calls, without making them feel bad, I cheer them on, reminding them of their progress. Celebrating their progress keeps them motivated and on track.
Input a Leadership Change Clause
One vendor I worked with included a “leadership change” clause in their contract, allowing them to demand full payment of all outstanding invoices and even terminate the project should there be a change in leadership.
As they realized that projects are often put on hold during leadership switches, leading to long delays and wasted resources, the clause enabled them to either conclude the project or end it while protecting their interests.
Jeremy Reis, Founder, Explore Startups
Coach Your Clients to Rely on Themselves
The first step in holding a client accountable is to coach them not to rely on you. If clients forget you are there to provide support, not do it for them, they may easily stop feeling accountable and instead feel like they need more from you as their coach or consultant than is actually the case.
The best way to help them rely on themselves is to support them in building their confidence. Confidence is born from taking action, so encourage them to start taking action right away, even if the steps you ask them to take are small. Ask them to give you deadlines for when they will get something done and support them in cultivating an action-oriented mindset.
Lead, Mentor, and Manage People First
It’s nearly impossible to hold someone else accountable because accountability comes from within. What leaders and consultants need to do is lead, mentor, and manage people to feel accountable for something first.
Validating their agreement and commitment to a decision, verifying they have the skills needed to accomplish the goal that the organization has assigned to them. We need to lead them there and help them identify the issues and obstacles that are going to get in the way of them meeting their commitments.
Share a Doc With Timelines and Due Dates
Everyone has their own definition of ASAP. When I’m coaching someone, I let them know I will guide them to the finish line, but I won’t pull them. In order for there to be transparency on both sides, I give them a weekly timeline of when certain things need to be done. I give them advice on how to do the task and show them where they can learn more about it if they need additional help in between coaching sessions. I make sure we go over that timeline every week to see if we are on schedule or if we need to adjust the plan.
Frame Win-Win Expectations for Timely Collaboration
Explain early in your relationship with a prospect or new client that one way you get the results you do for your clients—and one thing they report that they love about working with you—is by holding yourself and your clients to high standards of time management and mutual accountability.
Let them know that you’re highly organized such that you’re able to give them your full, high-quality attention when you’re working on their matters because you plan your commitments and your calendar carefully:
“I give my clients my all and that means I expect them to give me the information I need to accomplish their objectives in a timely and comprehensive manner. I reserve time for you, so I expect you to give me the info and responsiveness from you I need. Does that sound like something that will work for you?”
This conversation will help screen out troublesome clients and set a high bar from the get-go for their participation in the success you’ll achieve together.