I know 2010 was the same length as 2009, but time seemed to pass much more quickly in 2010. Why? Most likely because of the number of changes required to appropriately respond to what I am calling "The New Normal" of economic and market conditions. And here we are, almost a month into 2011.
Looking Back on 2010 – "Adding Value to the People"
My goal in 2010 was "Adding Value To The People" – and I did this in two ways. First, by more fully sharing my experience among clients, prospects, and referral sources. And second, by helping my staff develop their skills, which played out in several ways:
- Teaching both hard and soft skills.
- Clarifying the learning and development process.
- Researching techniques to better handle special projects.
Leveraging hard-learned lessons from over 21 years of working for myself, I was able to help my employees solve a wide variety of client issues, as well as develop their client service and communication skills. Continuing Professional Education (CPE) sessions at firm meetings, self-study CPE, and frequent working sessions to address issues real-time – all were techniques to share these lessons.
I also developed my staff by delegating more to them. Just as my tasks were changing dramatically in 2010, so were those of my staff – and they are the ones best positioned to quickly respond to evolving client needs. The book Leadership and the One Minute Manager, by Ken Blanchard, Patricia Zigarmi, and Drea Zigarmi, helped my staff and me handle different situations by varying our respective roles in the Directing, Coaching, Supporting, and Delegating leadership styles.
For several high-intensity special projects, I needed firm members to quickly come in from their individual client assignments, form ad hoc teams, clearly define roles and responsibilities, and work collaboratively. They learned to solve specific issues, report results, and then seamlessly return to their normal tasks. But how to do this, especially when everyone already had a full workload?
"Who Will Do What By When?"
Actually, a book and technique were instrumental in their success. Who Will Do What By When? How to Improve Performance, Accountability, and Trust with Integrity, by Tom Hanson and Birgit Zacher Hanson is my favorite type of book – a short (187 pages) "business fable" teaching a very practical model for a relevant topic. The main premise – honoring your promises, even when you may not be able to keep all of them.
- I was originally drawn to this book because:
- It continued the "personal accountability" theme I have always found so helpful.
- Its concepts were easy to understand and easy to put into practice – while they seem intuitive, they are not always obvious.
- It forced me to address a behavior I needed to change. I had a bad habit of not being on time for internal meetings or completing internal tasks by an agreed-upon date, giving the impression internal meetings and tasks are not as important as client meetings or tasks.
- It is well-written and entertaining.
In the summer of 2010, I began a staggered introduction of this book and technique – which we refer to as "WWDWBW" – to my staff.
Results so far? Greatly improved clarity, accountability, and productivity. There are many fewer meetings where people leave without knowing exactly who needs to do what and by when. With this clarity comes accountability from the "who" – not only to themselves, but also to their teammates counting on them to "do" the "what" by the needed "when." Things get done much quicker than anyone could possibly imagine.
Two examples of this:
- In mid-September 2010, three of us (my Manager of Business Development, an outside consultant, and I) met to brainstorm approaches to create and deliver two hours of CPE for our September 28 Firm Meeting. Concerned we would forget our assignments, we did an 8-point recap in WWDWBW format. Everyone met or exceeded their commitments, and the presentations were well-received by the firm members.
- In mid-November 2010, my Manager of Business Development and I discussed all the tasks to be done before she left for an extended Thanksgiving holiday. We were both shaking our heads wondering how we'd get everything done, when I took out a memo pad, and headed it with columns for "Who," "What," and "When." For the next 30 minutes, we listed all the required tasks on one page. We made copies of the page, highlighted each day's tasks in a different color, and got busy. Making a game of it, we challenged one another to see who could cross the most completed items off the list. By the end of the week, we were both laughing and grinning – we had not only completed all the tasks, we did so with time to spare!
- What seems an impossibility can be whittled down to a manageable set of steps.
- Clarity of task, due date, and purpose force focus.
- Knowing we would hold up a colleague whose work depended on ours gives added incentive to honoring our commitments.
All in all, good results for a simple technique.
Looking Forward to 2011 – "Creating Value for Everyone"
While reading the revised and expanded version of Let's Get Real or Let's Not Play: Transforming the Buyer/Seller Relationship, by Mahan Khalsa and Randy Illig, I was reminded of the "value" of a "solution." As the authors share in the section "Solutions Have No Inherent Value" (page 13), solutions derive value only if they:
- Solve problems people care about.
- Produce results people highly value.
It was a good reminder of the essence of value: Focus on what's important to THEM. And that's sometimes hard for someone like me who wishes folks would appreciate and hire us just because we're smart, hard-working, nice, reliable people. Granted, we do possess all those attributes – yet they're not sufficient to deliver value. We serve our clients best when we clearly understand THEIR goals and objectives before we start a project, and then keep THEIR goals and objectives in mind as we think about and work on THEIR issues, and communicate progress and findings to THEM.
This focus on value quickly yielded my overall goal for 2011 – "Creating Value for Everyone."
So how does this concept of "Creating Value for Everyone" apply? It can be tricky, especially when "everyone" can include:
- Clients who don't care HOW we perform our work – they focus only on results. They want problems solved, as quickly and efficiently as possible.
- Referral sources and prospects who don't care HOW we market the firm – they just want to quickly know whether we can help solve a particular problem.
- Employees who don't care HOW I manage the firm – they just want to do great work, be paid fairly, and have a strong benefits package.
- The firm, who does care HOW we do things – both for clients and internally – because the HOW drives our results and our profitability.
And finally, because I am also part of "everyone":
- I care HOW we do things because my livelihood comes from the firm's long-term viability, which depends on my juggling external and internal activities to balance often conflicting priorities and goals.
At this point, my major goals for 2011 are:
- Continue to do great work for all our clients.
- Bring a major internal project begun in 2010 to successful fruition and profitability in 2011.
- Prepare for increased demand for our services, as a recovering economy allows more companies to once again invest in services we provide.
- Manage the firm wisely, given how expensive it is to find, hire, orient, and deploy a new consultant – and the major risk inherent in a poor hire.
To achieve these goals will require me to practice, now and in every month in 2011, all aspects of what author and consultant Linda Galindo calls the "Accountability Cycle." Linda defines the elements of this cycle in her book, The 85% Solution: How Personal Accountability Guarantees Success...No Nonsense, No Excuses:
- Responsibility – "Personal responsibility is a 'before-the-fact' mind-set of personal ownership and commitment to a result." (page 58)
- Self-Empowerment – "Self-empowerment is taking the actions – and the risks – that you need in order to ensure that you achieve the results you desire." (page 147)
- Accountability – "Being accountable for your actions means showing that you are willing to answer for the outcomes that result from your choices, behaviors, and actions." (page 225)
Linda emphasizes that responsibility, self-empowerment, and accountability are all personal choices – no one else can make you practice personal accountability. You choose to do it yourself. It is insufficient to merely explain your mindset, actions, and outcomes – you have to personally claim them as yours and fully own them.
Honoring Personal Accountability
As the local and national economies continue to recover from the Great Recession, the best thing we can all do, as far as I can tell, is to practice personal accountability. Resolve to do whatever we can to help "Create Value for Everyone" – our employers, our employees or co-workers, our communities, and our families. By creating value for others, we enhance our own value to them – and we will all be rewarded in the long-term.
We can only do that when we resolve to create value using the single thing we can control – ourselves. We need to think long-term and act selflessly, looking to sow and nurture the seeds of value everywhere. Yes, that is difficult – especially when we see prominent examples of people thinking short-term and acting selfishly, and succeeding only by harvesting value created by others. Difficult, indeed – but no one said living a life of integrity and practicing personal accountability would be easy.
My hope is that others will take up my personal 2011 challenge – "Creating Value for Everyone" – as their own. If enough people do this, practicing and honoring personal accountability each and every day throughout the year, I have no doubt that our cumulative efforts and results will make a noticeable difference.
Todd L. Herman