Is Accountability the Secret Sauce to Productivity?

Accountability
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Productivity hacks, hustle culture and busy, busy, busy seem to be the prescription of the day. If you’ve followed me for any length of time you know I am not a fan of “busy”. As an executive coach who takes a very holistic view of those I work with, I am always looking to see what I can do to distill that magic formula. The one that allows my clients to do more, in less time so they can focus on what really matters to them. 

Sadly there is no one size fits all magic formula. Accepting that I will continue to share practices that you can implement in order for you to be more efficient and productive.  

I’ve shared time management strategies, I’ve studied a variety of different productivity methodologies but there is one thing I have seen as a common thread. Most of us will do whatever we can to avoid letting someone else down. Now, that’s not to say that we don’t all at some point or another run into situations where we fall short, but in my experience this want to live up to expectations is a powerful motivator. 

In fact, it is one of the primary tools that I use with clients to assist with productivity.

Accountability; The act of being accountable;

ac·count·a·ble
/əˈkoun(t)əb(ə)l/
adjective

  1. (of a person, organization, or institution) required or expected to justify actions or decisions; responsible.

Accountability is a key driver for productivity. How many times have you procrastinated on a project or task until you reach a point where you will finally be held accountable to someone that you finally get that job done? For me this TED talk, “Inside the mind of a master procrastinator” really rang true. It is well worth the time to watch it. 

Accountability is really about making a commitment to yourself, to someone directly or the public at large. We all like to honor our commitments and making a commitment to someone directly or making it publicly can be a powerful motivator.

Let’s unpack accountability a little bit and look at the different types of accountability.

Personal accountability

The subtitle of my book “When ‘Something’s Gotta Change’, Maybe It’s You!” is all about this. Personal accountability is about shifting the focus from external to internal. When Colleen was murdered, I had many friends and colleagues surround me, put their hand on my shoulder, shaking their head. They would mutter that phrase “Something’s gotta change”. 

I found that phrase became a bit of a mantra for me. I would wake up every morning and look in the mirror shaking my head saying “Something’s gotta change, something’s gotta change.” Day in, day out. Week in, week out I would just stare in that mirror and repeat that phrase “Something’s gotta change, Something’s gotta change”.

It wasn’t until I added those last three words that things really started to shift for me. That one day I stood in front of the mirror and said “Something’s gotta change…. Maybe it’s you, Mike, maybe it’s you.” 

What happened to her certainly wasn’t my fault. I could spend my days reflecting on all the things that needed to change in this world. I could lament what happened, shaking my head in despair or I could take personal accountability. I could become accountable to myself to do my best to become the change. 

It’s amazing how liberating it is when you shift to personal accountability. All of a sudden you are no longer beholden to a raft of things that are outside of your control. When you take personal accountability for your life all of a sudden you are in control. You have the power and it is incredibly freeing.   

Direct accountability

This is one of the many reasons why someone might hire a coach. Someone to hold them directly accountable for the things that they need to be getting done. There is a power when you make a commitment to someone specifically to get a thing accomplished.

As human beings we really do not like to fall short of our commitments. There are so many examples of the power of this. For me one of the best direct accountability examples is my early morning runs. Most mornings I pick Michelle up from her house at 5:30am to drive to our favourite river valley trail for our morning run. 

I am accountable to Michelle to show up and run. When my alarm goes off at 5am often the only thing that gets me out of bed is knowing that I have made a commitment to her to pick her up.

We see this kind of direct accountability in a variety of domains. It could be fitness with a workout buddy or a personal trainer. It may be in saving money with your financial planner.

When you have a goal you want to hit that is going to take some focused action, there are times when your personal discipline needs a little help. That is when finding someone to hold you directly accountable can be extremely powerful. Here are a few ways you can create some direct accountability in your life.

  • Hire a coach, trainer or other professional
    Finding a professional in whatever area you are striving in can be incredibly helpful. Not only can they assist with accountability but they can also give you some tools, techniques and tactics to ensure that you are maximizing your efficiency in achieving your goals.
  • Find an accountability buddy who is looking to accomplish something similar
    This is a simple, yet incredibly effective method. Just like Michelle and I hold each other accountable to get our runs done, I have made accountability pacts with business partners, friends and strangers who have common objectives.
  • Join a group of individuals who are striving for the same thing.
    Group dynamics can be powerful motivators. A group of people who are looking to accomplish similar goals can hold each other accountable while also cheering each other on.    

Public accountability

When I did my first Iron distance triathlon it was absolutely the most challenging physical activity I had undertaken up to that point. I remember when I first signed up for that race I knew that there was a refund period and that no one, except a select few knew that I had registered for the event. At that point in time I wasn’t really committed to the race at all. The few people who knew would certainly not hold me accountable as I would have been completely justified in bailing as a single dad and a business owner with a busy life. The race itself wouldn’t even hold me accountable as I could still get a full refund on my registration fees.

It wasn’t until I wrote a full blog post and shared it on social media that I really started to feel like I was actually committed to doing the work required to train for this event. Once I put it out there I felt very publicly accountable to get the job done. 

On the other side of the publicly accountable equation we have our political leaders, our business leaders, celebrities and the like that we, the public, hold accountable for their actions.    

Leadership

If you are a leader then part of your role is not only to be accountable but also to hold others accountable for what needs to be done as well as accountable for their actions. This is never as easy as it sounds. There are many different approaches to holding people accountable and as leaders it serves us well to recognize how individuals best respond to being held accountable. 

Compassionate accountability

This is an important piece to note. Accountability needs to be done with compassion. When we talk about compassion and empathy many people tend to think of this as weak. That we make excuses and let people off the hook. This doesn’t need to be the case. We can still have accountability with compassion. 

Compassion doesn’t mean that we excuse those who we are holding accountable from the consequences of their actions, it simply means that we do so with care, kindness and seek understanding. This is especially important when we are talking about personal or self accountability. If we don’t do so with compassion it is easy to turn personal accountability into personal judgement and self loathing. We can “should” all over ourselves and this is not at all productive.

When we can hold ourselves accountable with compassion we can accept that we fell short, chalk it up as a lesson to learn from and move forward with confidence. It is about accepting that because we did not do the thing doesn’t mean that we are a failure or worthless. There is lots of literature on self-compassion and if this one rings true for you then I would suggest having a look at the work by Dr. Kristen Neff here at https://self-compassion.org/   

Agreement vs. Expectation

This concept is a whole article in and of itself, however it is important to mention here. If we are going to hold people accountable then it is paramount that both those holding people to account and those being held accountable are on the same page. There have been many times when I have seen leaders frustrated because, in their eyes, team members were not being accountable to getting a job done. Yet when we dive a little deeper we see that what the team member thinks they agreed to is substantially different than the leader’s expectations. 

This can be a very big point of friction in any relationship. This is why it is incredibly important to make sure that you very clearly articulate any expectations and make sure that the person on the other end actually agrees to meet those expectations. When you are able to articulate your expectations and obtain an agreement to meet those expectations you now have a commitment. When you have a commitment now you have something that each party can be held accountable to uphold. 

Holding accountable vs. being accountable

There is a difference between making someone accountable and holding them accountable. For me this is readily apparent with my kids. I can make them accountable to do the dishes or do their laundry, however if I don’t hold them accountable and ultimately do the tasks for them then there really isn’t any accountability. 

This will vary from circumstance to circumstance however as leaders we need to do more than simply tell people that they are accountable we actually need to hold them accountable. This means a few things.

  1. It means that you need to have regular check ins
  2. It means there needs to be a timeline (This could be recurring or it could be a deadline)
  3. It means that there needs to be consequences if the commitment is not upheld.

Conclusion

When it comes to accountability and the usefulness of it, I think in terms of getting shit done. As you can see from the commentary above there are a variety of ways we can implement accountability to ensure that we stay on track with our objectives. A gentle reminder that as always when we look at these productivity tools we need to ensure that they align with our values and we aren’t employing them chasing the wrong thing. 

The bottom line is that accountability is not something that just happens. Accountability is something that has to be cultivated with intentionality. When we employ accountability with compassion and consistency we can dramatically improve the quality of our lives. 

What are some of the best methods of accountability you have seen employed?

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