If I must accept responsibility for my outcomes then I must be held to account for them. But I can only be accountable for my own actions and reactions – the things in my control. Since I can’t control outcomes how then can I be responsible for them?
THE TAKE AWAY
This article will build your responsibility muscles by helping you stay accountable for progress regardless of your pace or the outcome.
Accountability in any pursuit means you must count. Counting allows you to measure progress. Measurement allows you to manage your pace. Outcomes, regardless of what they are, always take care of themselves – win or lose, yes or no, success or failure – responsibility means simply that you have the ability to respond appropriately to how you arrived at a particular outcome.
Listen to the first post-game questions from family, friends, and fans of any age athlete. Always you will hear, “Who won? What was the score? Where did you place?” Either that or the first thing an athlete will report is a final metric.
We justify our score focus the way we justify consuming news headlines. “I do it to stay informed”, we proclaim. Yet an endless and repetitive cycle of news rarely enhances our understanding of an issue or alters our civic behavior. Instead, we mostly confirm our biases or sour our mood. Our consumption of scores in pursuit of performance leaves us as unenlightened as our consumption of headlines in our pursuit of knowledge. The same is true of year-end or month-end sales metrics.
Certainly, news briefs, like score sheets can be useful. But headlines, race results and sales numbers only reveal a glimpse of what think we need. Final scores gives no insight to what matters most about our performance: the path to get there, the effort expended and the lessons to next apply on our growth journey.
We mostly pay lip service to the more substantive and enduring questions about our pursuits, such as, “How was the experience for me? What did I learn? What could I have changed? How does this compare to my personal best? What was a highlight moment? What was hardest? Why?”
Imagine asking those questions to a soccer kid each and every time she came off of the pitch instead of, “Did you win?”!
When I race I consciously resist the urge to rush to the scoring table to review my result. “What was my place? How did I do in my age bracket? What was my time?” I always want those answers and they are fun to get but they are fleeting and misleading, so too with sales results.
The best place to assess performance isn’t at the end of any pursuit where we have no control over outcomes but throughout the experience of getting there: the journey, as it were, not the destination; for that is where accountabilities lie. That is where we influence outcome not control it.
We only need five basic tools for the trip:
1. A goal. It doesn’t matter what you call it, in the context of any performance journey we need a destination, a target, an objective, an aspiration, something that can give us purpose or direction and can ignite our desire to act in the near term or long. But ignition is precisely that: a start. More is needed to keep any flame alive. The beautiful thing about goals is that they can morph into deadlines.
2. A deadline. Be it a due date or a time limit, deadlines have the miraculous ability to keep us on track and they work their magic in any increment. I often set a timer for 30 minutes to help constrain my ADD monkey mind when I set about a desk task. At the other extreme I have an entire season of race dates blocked on my calendar. The beautiful thing about a deadline is that it can morph into a schedule.
3. A schedule. Whether I use a calendar or a clock, a schedule gives me waypoints against which I can measure my activity and put teeth into the axiom, “what gets measured gets done.” A schedule is clear, it’s trackable and can be as empty or full as I want to make it. Thus, it functions more like a corral than a cage; it keeps us where we belong but offers plenty room to maneuver. And that maneuver is an endless balancing act between two poles of equal importance, ease and rigor.
4. Balance. This is the Holy Grail. Balance is that often elusive, sometimes confounding and always necessary part of any performance pursuit. Finding balance forces us to ask questions like: How often and how long must I tilt toward the extreme end of effort, fortitude and rigor or the opposite direction toward relaxation, spaciousness and ease? Do I hold fast to a deadline or forgive it? Do I force myself out of bed or sleep in? Do I reprimand or forgive, gut it out or give in, stick to the schedule or remain flexible, drive on or pause, grasp or release? The answers always come back to balance. Buddha called it the Middle Way. To help us maintain balance we need support.
5. Support. Be they people, places or things, support for any pursuit comes in many forms. If I am lucky enough to have teammates or a friend on my quest then I have willing accountability partners for the trip. I simply need to treat them as such. If it’s a solo journey then I find support from rituals, objects or environments. This could be a photograph, a walk, a library, an affirmation, a meditation, a café: anything that buoys my resolve, reanimates my thinking or centers my mind.
Simply telling someone they must be accountable provides no lift. It’s like telling someone they should be nice; it’s easy to do when the going is easy. What if I’m exhausted, pissed, late, hungry or hurt? The best advice then isn’t to be nice: it’s to take a nap, take a break, take a bite, take a breath. One can account for those actions far more easily than a mood.
Accountability is similar in that it’s easiest when we are on target, in rhythm and feeling strong, focused and fulfilled. But that’s not when we need accountability the most; we need it when we are demoralized, confused, tired, scared, lost or lazy. It is then that we have to integrate one or all five of the tools from our kit.
One key to integration is documentation. By whatever means, in whatever format, track, report, reflect and review. The palest ink, after all, is more powerful than the strongest memory.
I have long chronicled my journey toward reduced anxiety, quicker emergence from low productivity funks and deeper belief in my professional path. I have hundreds of journal entries oozing with recrimination, self-doubt and failed intentions. I also have hundreds brimming with optimism, strength and victory.
Here is a journal entry that captures the beautiful synchronization of all five accountability tools during a time of severe anxiety and struggling production.
“10/30/2006. I felt in my power this week. A solid A+ – the first since I began a tracking process just over 5 months ago. First, let me answer the chipmunk sounding critic. No, I didn’t track time all day every day but I tracked a bunch. No, I didn’t have my executive planning session last Friday. I’m doing it now, Monday morning. I didn’t re-examine my goal focus every morning but I did at least once during the day. I’m reaping the benefits of this process of self-reflection, and goal setting.
I feel the growth of good habits; no junk internet, no YouTube and I dare say no anxiety this week. My frequent lapses of attention, focus, follow through, or commitment, are less severe and the aftermath from a slip up is short lived. I’m easily forgiving myself.
My big goal this week was speech prep for my 11/9 presentation, and where I might normally feel mounting anxiety, I felt power. I recalled Kelley’s advice about delivering the best of myself from a place of caring, knowledge, and excitement. It’s not about my performance, but my connection. He had me raise my outspread arms and shout, “I’m terrific. I help people!” Man that was helpful.”
That is victory. That is the result of holistic accountability using all five tools.
THE NEXT STEP
1. Be it analog or digital, your goals, deadlines and schedules must be written. Using whatever medium suits you best, with whatever level of detail feels right, start writing.
2. Don’t bog down picking the right journal, the best method or the optimal process. A legal pad will suffice.
3. Review the five-tool accountability list in this article and identify your Achilles heel; that area were you most struggle with accountability.
4. Consider what you will do differently this time and commence. This process will never end.
5. Silently affirm yourself thus: “I am not the wins and losses to which I equate my worth.”
J. Sheldon Snodgrass, MBA is the creator of the Insurance CSR Sales Master Class which you can preview for free here: www.SteadySales.com