The Sum of Small Efforts
Which do you believe is more typical of personal accountability – a “big bang” change, or consistent incremental improvements?
I have a wonderful app, Nature Sounds Meditation, on my smartphone. My favorite feature? Every day, it pops up a different “Daily Inspiration,” consisting of an uplifting quote or saying, and an interesting graphic. Here’s a recent one that really spoke to me:
A great saying, coming at just the right time for this newsletter!
Recap – My Personal Accountability Journey
This article is the annual installment in my ongoing series on personal accountability, "Intentional Reality." Begun in 2006 to parallel the launch of my "Todd's Results" personal accountability program, this series tracks my ongoing experiences - both successes and challenges - with personal accountability.
Looking back over twelve years, two things stand out:
- Personal accountability is NOT developed in a day, or even in a few weeks! My development was not like a typical on-off light switch – rather, it was like a dimmer light switch, with the light consistently getting brighter.
- Personal accountability is just that - personal. Only one person can make you choose to practice personal accountability, and that's YOU.
Let me share some examples of how I saw personal accountability play out in my firm in 2017.
2017 – Personal Accountability Inside THA
Here are a few examples that stood out to me:
- Focus On What You CAN Control – This year, one of my folks read the book QBQ: The Question Behind the Question - What to Really Ask Yourself to Eliminate Blame, Victim Thinking, Complaining, and Procrastination, by John G. Miller, and took our internally-developed quiz. The quiz includes two short essays - one essay focusing on a situation when the person did NOT follow the book's guidelines, and a second essay for a situation when the guidelines WERE followed. This person wrote two excellent essays, essentially describing the "Before" and "After" experiences of applying the QBQ guidelines at a client. The first essay recounted his frustrations because one of the client's staff was not getting things done. As a result of reading the book, he applied the QBQ principles, asking himself, "What can I do to help move things forward?" His second essay described how he had asked himself this question, generated new ideas, applied the most promising, and succeeded in getting things moving again. SUCCESS!! This is EXACTLY what I want everyone on my staff to do!
- Accept Responsibility For Your Mistakes - When I discovered a major problem in how one of my staff members was doing a particular aspect of her job, I realized she had never been trained to do the task correctly. Although she genuinely did not understand the unacceptable nature of the issue, she also knew she was responsible for a correct outcome. Given the gravity of the issue, we created a Performance Improvement Plan (PIP), which included two checklists she could use to prevent future problems. In meeting with her to discuss the PIP - which was to last six months – she impressed me by owning up to the problem and admitting the need for correction. During this time, her Quarterly Performance Review rating reflected her mistake. Rather than questioning the low rating, she again accepted personal responsibility for the mistake and its consequences – and, best of all, she is now on track to turn in her best quarterly performance EVER!
- Stop Doing What Doesn't Work - Through a series of unfortunate events starting in 2016 and spanning ten months, I had unprecedented turnover in my "Right Hand” person! This particular position requires a strong person who can help me be my most productive. While interviewing candidates in early 2017, I decided to develop an audition to test each candidate's aptitude for the job. This new process seemed to work well, and I found a person I thought would stay several years. Wrong! While she had the aptitude for the position, her attitude was not a good match and she gave notice after only five short months. When reflecting on those who had succeeded in the position and stayed a few years, one thing stood out - the ones who stayed were relatively inexperienced and looked at the position as an excellent learning and advancement opportunity. So … back to the drawing board. I changed my candidate pool to specifically seek underemployed persons looking to prove their true worth, and worked with my coach to BOTH refine the audition to focus on items specific to THA (as opposed to a "generic" company in the first version) AND screen for attitude to help enable successful performance and personal development. The result? A spot-on great hire and a wonderful addition to our firm. SCORE!!
- Hold Yourself to Very High Standards – As I just described, my current "Right Hand" is doing very, very well in her position. She is reading available job aids, learning things quickly, writing down notes and tasks, asking good questions, and thinking about how to take what she is doing and do it even better. In short, she is doing all the things I need her to be doing, and doing them very well. On her first Quarterly Performance Review, she earned a "4-Very Good" overall rating. She confessed she was genuinely relieved because she believed her rating would be LOWER. Asking her why, I learned she felt some personal matters had distracted her. I explained that, although there were occasional inconsistencies in her performance, I remained very pleased with her attitude, aptitude, and achievements - especially given the number and complexity of tasks she was expected to handle. Her attitude during her review was something I especially admire in my staff - holding themselves to even higher standards than I do! YES!
One important point to bear in mind – I couldn’t “make” my staff do any of these things. All I could do is provide guidance, model personally accountable behavior, and leave the rest to them.
Key Qualities of High Personal Accountability
You’ve just read several very different stories, yet each illustrates the practice of personal accountability. If I had to list some key qualities of a person practicing high personal accountability, I would include the following from the preceding examples, and a fifth from my own experience:
- Focus On What You CAN Control - You can influence, but NOT control, the choices of your clients or your staff or your friends or your family. Always remember – the only person you can control is YOU.
- Accept Responsibility For Your Mistakes - Practicing personal accountability when things are going well is easy - who doesn't want to get credit for success? Practicing personal accountability is VERY hard when you have to own up to mistakes and shortcomings, especially when they may be outside of your control.
- Stop Doing What Doesn't Work - The classic definition of "insanity" is doing the same thing over and over, and expecting different results. In developing the first version of the audition for my “Right Hand,” I was addressing a specific need and I got a better result - yet, I had to develop a second version of the audition when the first result still came up short.
- Hold Yourself to Very High Standards - When holding yourself to very high standards, you'll almost never be disappointed during your performance review, or in life - and, many times, you will be pleasantly surprised.
- Remember: Personal Accountability Isn't Developed In a Day, Yet It Is Developed Daily - I've paraphrased this quality from a quote by Dr. John C. Maxwell on leadership development. Understand you will not always consistently follow the preceding four qualities - that's okay, just always attempt to do your best, determine what you could have done differently, and try again. With deliberate, strenuous, and boring practice, you WILL become better. You may say, “Todd, those are all simple things.” Yes, they are, and so is a foul shot – yet “simple” does not mean “easy.” You only get good at something by repeating simple things day in and day out, until they become habitual.
2018 – Asking All My Firm Members to Step Up
Even though my staff and I (yes, I also receive a Quarterly Performance Review!) are performing well, I am challenging us collectively to do something in 2018 that's never been done before - and that's for ALL firm members to earn a “5-Outstanding” overall rating on at least one Quarterly Performance Review in the same year! This goal is definitely a challenge and will require some stretching, yet I believe it is attainable with sustained focus.
Looking ahead to what 2018 likely holds, I see opportunities for all of us to take on a major challenge and handle it. While this will require some heroic efforts from each person - and likely some help from his or her colleagues and manager - success will be possible because each person has incrementally practiced and improved personal accountability.
Always remember – SUCCESS is the SUM of SMALL efforts, REPEATED day in and day out.
Todd L. Herman