The benefits of becoming accountable with a "No Excuse" attitude adjustment.
This month, I will share some reflections on a personal experiment that I publicly undertook in 2006. As you will see in this newsletter, my commitment to personal accountability was both difficult – in terms of time and courage – and important to both me and the firm because of the area – Business Development. The topic this month is a conclusion of our first two newsletters in 2006 (for a quick recap of these and links to the full text, see the end of this newsletter).
How did all this turn out? This boils down to answering three questions:
- So What?
- Now What?
What? What I Planned to Do, and What I Did...
Recall that accountability can be defined as "willingness to explain your actions." Thus, I followed through on putting into place all the external structures that I said I would:
- An expanded agenda for our Business Development meetings.
- Working regularly with Carol Dalgarn, my Director of Business Development, to meet my goals.
- Staking loss of my BlackBerry as a consequence, and posting results on my web site.
What happened as a result of all this can best be told chronologically.
>> 2006 Quarter 1 – Starting Slowly: Three Shocks
I was initially uncomfortable, once I had committed to the planned topics in Parts 1 and 2 of this series. Why? For a universal reason – no one really likes to be accountable. Who really wants to explain their actions, especially if the explanation could lead to unpleasant consequences? Nonetheless, I did get over this first shock by recognizing that having to publicly state any failure would motivate my "Achiever" strength. (I highly recommend the book, Now, Discover Your Strengths, and its companion web site www.strengthsfinder.com, to quickly and inexpensively assess your innate strengths. For reference, my "Signature Themes" are Achiever, Learner, Focus, Strategic, and Significance.)
In one of our first meetings, Carol and I made a rule – only items fully documented in our Contact Management database, by the time of our monthend evaluation of the prior month, would be counted in assessing my results. Yikes! Another level of accountability – documentation! This caused me to experience the shock client personnel feel in a system development or integration project – people must be willing to allow processes to link them with enabling technology, which can be risky because it may expose poor performance and lead to consequences. I drew a deep breath and got over this second shock.
Carol and I did begin meeting in-person every two weeks, with a brief check-in each Wednesday morning. While we had worked together for over two years, this accountability relationship was a new experience and a role reversal for both of us – a third shock. We quickly settled on a workable meeting agenda and format, and results began to show.
>> 2006 Quarter 2 – A Fourth Shock: A Near Miss!
Things were going well – our Business Development meetings were focused and productive, I was working regularly with Carol to plan and carry out tasks, and I was meeting goals and thus keeping my BlackBerry. Unfortunately, neither Carol nor I have the strengths of "Discipline" or "Responsibility" – two strengths that lend themselves well to process and structure. Thus, we both naturally became distracted and lost focus on my June goals.
On June 28, Carol and I realized we had lost focus, confessed to mutually losing sight of our accountability roles, reviewed my results against goals, and found I had not brought in a new project for the month! After my fourth shock – possible public failure – subsided, we reviewed the status of all proposals over the last 9 months – none could be signed in the next two days. I then remembered a request from a client, and devised a technically-feasible and cost-effective approach to meet the client's needs. Calling the client the next day, I described the approach and obtained approval to proceed! Yes – a sale!
>> 2006 Quarter 3 – Rededication
The June 28 near miss was a wake-up call to me – I realized that I did not like the feeling of possible failure and I resolved to go to any lengths to avoid another near miss. Thus, I took several steps to improve my performance:
- Changed the meeting with Carol to weekly, and tightened the agenda topics.
- Worked with Carol to begin an improved process for conducting and reporting our Business Development meetings.
- Focused on my goals by printing – and prominently displaying – Carol's recap of these.
- Overhauled our marketing message to greatly simplify how we describe ourselves and our services.
- Began delivering the clearer, simpler message to our referral sources.
Working with Katrina – who calls herself a "Clutter Coach" – was another accountability relationship. I focused on "decluttering" assigned areas of my desk and office between scheduled progress meetings and working sessions with Katrina. I amazed both her and myself by getting my workspace decluttered by mid-September! This allowed us to move into the areas of time and task management, allowing me to further focus on Business Development efforts.
What were the results of my rededicated efforts? All third-quarter goals were handily met.
>> 2006 Quarter 4 – More Changes, More Success
My third quarter actions paid off quickly, with the firm receiving the most referrals ever in our 17 years. This spurred on my "Achiever" to undertake even more tasks:
- Achieved the highest level ever of public visibility through our marketing efforts.
- Overhauled and simplified the content, navigation, and "look and feel" of our web site.
- Began search engine optimization (SEO) and pay per click (PPC) programs, based on the revised web site.
- Revamped the format and locations of our firm receptions.
- Honored our clients and other "Friends of the Firm" by contributing to Greensboro Urban Ministry through the Honor Card program.
The end result of this? We avoided a typical seasonal slowdown – revenues in the fourth quarter were the highest they have been in many years.
So What? Comments About All This...
A turning point for me was seeing an August 2005 presentation by author and psychologist Dr. Henry Cloud. As he talked about his own experience in implementing personal change, I suddenly realized he was an example to follow. Seeing him accept responsibility for completing his thesis – seeing myself being accountable for increased Business Development effectiveness. Picturing him staking his Mont Blanc pen on tasks to finish his thesis – picturing my BlackBerry on the line for achieving my goals. Dr. Cloud painted a vivid picture of the process and benefits of having an accountability partner, and gave me the nerve to attempt this myself.
Remember, all these actions were undertaken by me after designating Carol as my Business Development accountability partner. These actions were done to help me better enable my company's success. What were the measurable results for the firm and me?
- I did achieve 100% completion of weekly tasks and monthly goals for all 12 months.
- Various measures of the firm's Business Development activities and results were up between 20% and 150% in 2006 versus 2005.
- The firm's revenues for 2006 were 25% greater than those in 2005.
What lessons can I share with you from 2006 and my commitment to personal accountability?
The first major lesson:
- Personal accountability is tough. Opening yourself to explain your actions to someone else is humbling. Being willing and able to take direction from someone else is difficult. Realizing that you are not always your own "best boss," "best organizer," or "best Business Development Manager" is hard to admit.
A second major lesson:
- Taking complete responsibility for your actions and being accountable for small, intermediate goals uses the value of process to stretch you in achieving previously unimaginable goals. Dr. Cloud described the small steps taken by an ant in building a city – just as it was impossible for him to conceive an ant being able to do this, I would have never thought I could carry out all the actions I've listed.
The third major lesson focuses on personal benefits I have achieved:
- Reduced Worry – Personal accountability allowed me to start and complete actions that I have known, for some time, needed to be done. I know I will always have to deal with a changing environment for consulting services and a sometimes fickle economy – and I now know that I have done my best to position the firm for success, regardless of circumstances beyond my control.
- Reliance on Others – Bringing an accountability partner into an area I had previously reserved for myself allows me to better see options and determine how I could harness the strengths of others.
- Focus on What Is Important – While I have always been action-oriented, I have not always balanced this with a focus on importance. Having an accountability partner brings "third party objectivity" to a situation and sharpens my focus.
- Higher Levels of Attentiveness – A significant intangible benefit is that I can better focus on clients, colleagues, and coworkers, giving them the attention they deserve.
The final major lesson involves several paradoxes around freedom:
- You freely enter into an accountability arrangement, whereby you and your accountability partner define external structures (final desired goals, factors for evaluating actions, frequency and location of meetings, and the like), consequences (which can be positive and negative), and the roles each person agrees to perform.
- You do lose some freedom in having an accountability partner – you give up self-will and self-evaluation by having to regularly explain your actions to your partner.
- The freedoms you gain from an accountability relationship are enormous.
- You no longer worry about what actions you take – you take the agreed-upon actions.
- You no longer wonder whether you explain your actions – you always explain them, which will make your success or failure evident to both parties.
- You no longer spend time evaluating your actions – your accountability partner does this quickly and objectively, using the agreed-upon factors.
- You no longer think about the types of consequences – you have already specified these.
- You no longer question whether consequences will be imposed – they will be applied by your accountability partner, just as you two have agreed.
Personal accountability – being willing to explain your actions – is humbling and requires courage. But for those who try it, the rewards can be enormous.
Now What? My Plans for 2007...
While it took nerve and an intentional decision to practice personal accountability for Business Development in 2006 – which branched into other areas of personal responsibility, as needed to support my overall goals – the personal and business results made it more than worthwhile. Thus, to continue my personal and business growth, I plan to:
- Continue relying on my accountability partners in their respective areas.
- Continue practicing personal accountability in my weekly and monthly Business Development goals, staking my BlackBerry on my performance.
- Begin practicing personal accountability in deliberately nurturing my Business Development skills on a weekly and monthly basis, and modifying the "Todd's Results" page to publicly report results and to include a recommended resource. For these tasks, I am putting my BlackBerry on the line, too.
Well, that's it. I have just now freely entered into my accountability intentions for 2007, and have lost a degree of freedom as a result – but I have gained more freedom than you can imagine. I invite you to practice personal accountability for yourself – but only if you are serious about achieving greater personal and professional results than you think possible.
Todd L. Herman
Addendum – Links and Quick Recap
Links to the original newsletters:
- January 2006 – Intentional Reality: Part 1 – What Is Personal Accountability?
- February 2006 – Intentional Reality: Part 2 – What Do People, Process, and Technology Have To Do With Personal Accountability?
A quick recap of the first two newsletters:
- Accountability can be defined as "willingness to explain your actions."
- Lessons I learned from a speech by Dr. Henry Cloud sharing practical tips on how to make personal changes:
- What begins as external becomes internal.
- Find an external structure – mark your calendar for a regular meeting with an accountability partner, and introduce some consequences to motivate you.
- Learn the gift of process – change happens over time.
- My accountability partner and I constructed this question – "What external structures can be put in place (or changed) to make focused intentions a reality?"
- I decided to use myself as a personal "example" or "case study" in changes that can occur in a year, by committing to and rigorously following the concepts of personal accountability in my Business Development tasks. I focused my intention to be more visible publicly to our clients, prospects, and referral sources, to bring to reality a wider and clearer awareness of the firm and its capabilities, so that our marketing generates sales. The external structuresI put into place, or changed, included:
- Expanding the agenda of our Business Development meetings to plan specific weekly and monthly goals for everyone in the group, and then to evaluate specific results achieved.
- Beginning to consistently work with my Director of Business Development to develop action steps related to these specific goals.
- Staking loss of my BlackBerry as a consequence for failing to meet my goals, and posting my success or failure to my web site on the "Todd's Results" page.