How to Measure Accountability
26th January 2017
As we approach the end of our series on creating accountability in your life, we’ve covered topics such as how to better understand yourself and set your goals, how to start forming habits to reach those goals as well as creating a system of accountability to ensure that you actually reach those goals. Now we’d like to talk a little more in-depth about the system of accountability—about how to measure accountability and to check that your accountability system is working for you and actually helping you to reach your goals (as well as helping you to set the right goals).
Once you have an accountability system in place, you need to ensure that it’s working for you as well as for everyone else in the group (if you have one). The Covey Institute (based on the writings and ideas of Stephen R Covey) calls this concept “The Cadence of Accountability”—you can see their summary of this idea in this short video.
You may have heard the term “cadence” to describe the idea of a rhythmic flow of sounds, words, and intonations; For example
In this case, the word “cadence” is being used to describe the rhythmic flow of regular accountability meetings with your group. Ideally, the accountability meetings are fairly brief but frequent (weekly, at the very least). These accountability meetings give you the chance to check in, both to make sure that you are all achieving results, as well as to make sure that every member in the accountability group is working for each other. As mentioned in the video, you should report on your progress of the past commitments you made in previous meetings, you should measure, review and update your scoreboard, and you should make new commitments for moving forward into the next week. Here is a cute karate student giving you his version of what it means to him.
Your accountability group should never function from the “top down,” but should instead center around a goal (or goals) that everyone is committed to. Your cadence of accountability is where you review your last group of commitments, learn from the successes and failures of the various commitments, and then plan for the following week. What’s important here is that the meetings are rhythmic and regular; sticking to a set schedule is the best way to ensure success in your accountability groups.
- Why are some tasks not getting done?
The tasks that didn’t get done will obviously get a little more attention in your meetings, as you try to understand why not. There are a variety of reasons why certain tasks might not get completed in a set time frame, and accountability is about more than just chastising each other for failing to achieve certain goals or tasks. It’s about taking some time to ask yourself why you didn’t complete something—getting to the root of the problem so you can fix it in the future.
- Were they not deemed important enough? If this is the case, it might be time to start rethinking your goals and asking yourself why you’ve set these goals and why you’ve chosen to complete these particular tasks. If the goal truly is really important to you, then you may need to start adjusting your thought patterns in order to view the tasks with the right level of importance, to see how crucial this particular task may be to achieving your long-term vision. However, in some cases, a specific goal may have been formed with a misguided intent—this particular task may be superfluous or unnecessary, in which case the goal may need to be ditched or re-envisioned in order to create a goal that aligns more closely with your values and the ideals that are most important to you.
- Were they too ambitious? Ambition is good, but was it a smart goal? Everyone differs a little on how high you should set your standard of achievement when setting goals, and it can be hard to find that magic spot—set your goals too easy, and you won’t achieve real growth or success; too difficult, and you’ll get discouraged when you can’t achieve them. If you’re struggling to complete the tasks you’ve set for yourself, then you might need to work on breaking it down into something a bit smaller and more achievable.
- Was no time allocated to complete them? Maybe you just didn’t set up a concrete plan for precisely when you were going to complete a specific task. “I’ll get around to it,” you can even buy a T-shirt with this phrase and its tagged under procrastination. “I’ll do it soon,” or “It will get done eventually” are all phrases that pretty much translate into a task not getting done. If you want to actually get something done, you need to set aside an exact time to complete your activity and then when it’s time to do it—do it! No excuses.
- Did something come up unexpectedly that got you off-schedule? Life happens, and we can’t always be in control of the crazy stuff that happens to our schedules and throws things helter-skelter. You might start your week out with all the best intentions, but new responsibilities, commitments, and distractions may arise throughout the week that prevent you from accomplishing all your goals and scheduled tasks for the week. However, if this “something comes up” distraction is happening frequently, and consistently pushing back a specific task, then that task probably needs to be added to the top of your priorities to ensure that it actually gets done.
Remember: you have set goals that are really important to you, so even if the tasks in achieving those goals are difficult to do, it’s vital that you work on them before spending time on the easier and less beneficial tasks, otherwise you won’t achieve your bigger goals. Noelle Frederico over at The Working Single Mom talks about this in one of her Daily Discussions – she explains that if you really want something, you have to really go after it – even if that means going to “war” on yourself in order to get rid of any distractions or excuses that are stopping you from achieving the success you desire.
Racheal Cook, MBA, speaks in this podcast about how we should think about setting goals at the start of a new year. She advises that before we start setting new goals, we should first review our previous year and look at what we’ve already achieved and how we can plan to repeat that success in the future. This kind of review should also be incorporated into the discussions you’re having in your accountability groups.
Accountability the Right Way
There’s a right and a wrong way to hold people accountable, as Peter Bregman addresses in this article on the Harvard Business Review. It’s not about getting angry at each other or about begging and pleading with each other to get work done; it’s not about feeling guilty or even just taking blame when things get done. Accountability is about taking responsibility in an efficient and clear way to ensure that tasks get done.
In his article, Bregman makes the case that clarity is the most important aspect when you measure accountability, and he details 5 different aspects of accountability where clarity is needed: you need to have clear expectations, clear capability, clear measurement, clear feedback, and clear consequences. If your group is not working for you, step back as a team and ask yourselves: are you failing each other in any of these 5 elements of clarity? If you’re not communicating clearly about your expectations of each other or your own capabilities of completing tasks; if you’re not giving clear feedback, using a clear measurement system, or setting clear consequences—then your accountability group isn’t functioning at maximum capability.
This is why it’s so important to create a cadence of accountability, with rhythmic, regular check-ins with each other—so that you are both constantly and consistently reviewing each other to make sure that you are doing what you need to do in a way that is beneficial and helpful to everyone in the group.
The Harvard Business Review isn’t the only source talking about the importance of clear expectations and clear definitions of goals and responsibilities. In this Xconomy opinion piece about Cultivating Accountability in the Workplace, the first item on the list emphasizes the importance of clearly-defined roles, responsibilities, and goals. If you don’t start out with clearly-defined tasks, then you won’t really have anything to hold yourself accountable for, as you won’t know exactly what is supposed to be done when by whom. Clarity is everything!
In the same article, Shellye Archambeau discusses the need to provide empowerment in order to reach goals—just as we have discussed the importance of creating a personal system of both rewards and consequences, Archambeau writes that a workplace should:
“…establish a system of rewards and incentives. If certain employees complete projects well and on time, make sure that they are recognized, valued, and encouraged. As a bootstrapped startup, you may not be able to offer over-the-top rewards, but you can at least laud an employee’s efforts in a company forum. The key is to let employees know that their efforts are appreciated.”
Though this is written in the context of workplace dynamics between manager and employees, this is applicable to any accountability group. Make sure that you are properly recognizing each other’s successes in order to reinforce the positive behavior that is getting you closer to achieving your goals. If your accountability group isn’t recognizing each other’s achievements as well as pinpointing your struggles and working to fix the problems, then your group isn’t fully doing its job and needs to step up the game.
Again, we can’t stress enough how this all comes back to constant monitoring of your accountability system. Meeting frequently and regularly with an unfailing rhythmic certainty is the key to assessing your accountability system and ensuring that you all remain on track with your goals and that you’re all doing your part to hold each other accountable.
The truth is, “accountability” is more than just a buzzword. Accountability in the workplace should in fact become a core part of your culture, as discussed in this blog post by Warren Tanner – it means that everyone is involved in creating trust, setting goals, working together to achieve successes, etc. For maximum business success for everyone involved, accountability needs to be a daily habit and routine that benefits everyone.
So, lets circle back to talk about those tasks that don’t always get done, as we mentioned at the beginning of this post. . With all this extra knowledge in mind, can you and your accountability group or partner identify what the reason was for not getting them done? Perhaps it was one of the reasons mentioned in this post, or perhaps it was something else entirely. Whatever the reasons, finding them out will help you get to the source of the problems you may struggle with in getting work done, and will help you get on track to actually completing your goals.
If you need some help with prioritizing your goals, this post can help you with prioritizing your goals. There is a list of questions here that can help you know which goals are most important to you and your life, and can help you determine what order you need to work through them (based on importance as well as the time frame you want/need to complete them in).
Some more helpful advice on prioritizing your goals can be found over at Jolly Guru, where they talk about dividing your tasks into the four categories of “urgent and important,” “urgent but not important,” “important but not urgent,” and “not important and not urgent” – and dividing your time appropriately among all four categories.
Accountability in Scrum
Definition and use of the word scrum
Another way to think about accountability is to think about the idea of “scrum.” The term “scrum,” which is now used in project management, originates from the idea of “scrum” in rugby—a formation of 8 men on each side all pushing against each other in the right direction.
“Scrum is an agile software development model based on multiple small teams working in an intensive and interdependent manner. The term is named for the scrum (or scrummage) formation in rugby, which is used to restart the game after an event that causes play to stop, such as an infringement.”
For a helpful infographic about how accountability works in scrum, check it out here on the Scrum Alliance website:
Unlike responsibility, which is doing the work, accountability is making sure the work gets done (or being able to explain why it didn’t get done). For instance, the ScrumMaster is accountable for resolving impediments. However, this does not necessarily mean she resolves all impediments herself. She will frequently need to coordinate with another individual or group, such as IT or Purchasing, who will do the heavy lifting and be responsible for the action that eventually resolves the impediment.
This idea of accountability vs. responsibility leads well into our next idea…the idea of business vs. busyness.
SET SOME BENCHMARKS
In his blog, Torben Rick gives a SIMPLE acronym on how to keep people accountable and to ensure that jobs get done: Set expectations, Invite Commitment, Measure Progress, Provide Feedback, Link to Consequences, and Evaluate Effectiveness. As you can see, this acronym breaks effective accountability down into a multi-step process, and your first step is to set those expectations (or benchmarks) of where you want to reach. From there, you move forward to the next steps, working together, and as you make progress towards your goals, the final step in the SIMPLE acronym asks you to evaluate the effectiveness of what you’re doing. These steps are not an isolated, one-time action; as you continually evaluate the effectiveness of your actions within your accountability group, you can begin again with the cycle as you gradually determine the best methods to accomplish your goals and to hold each other accountable.
Are You In Business or Busyness?
So many business owners get to the end of the day, week, month, or even year and feel completely exhausted—and because of this exhaustion, they initially think that they must have achieved a lot; after all, they wouldn’t be so tired if they weren’t working so hard. However, on closer reflection, these business owners may often find that after so much work, they have very little to show in terms of real progress towards their actual goals. This is because often what they are really doing is just the easy, routine, comfortable tasks. Unless they can find a way to do these more efficiently (or outsource them to others), they may never reach the next business level where they are the conductor in the orchestra—and not just the person playing third clarinet.
Everyone’s goals and aspirations are different but most business owners at some point want to achieve the aims of:
A – Working on tasks that really excite them (often called flow)
B – Working on strategic goals that create real exponential growth
C – Feel that they run the business and not the other way around
In order to get to that stage in your business, you need to actually put in the hard work required to meet your goals and get to work on the “big ideas” instead of the mundane, easy tasks that you’re used to filling your time with every day.
This is where your accountability system comes in: a good accountability system should be able to help you organize and prioritize the tasks that need to get done and who they need to get done by. You can’t do everything by yourself; you’ll inevitably end up falling short somewhere. That’s why it’s so important to develop a team—a team that enables you to prioritize what you need to invest your own time and energy into, as well as giving each member of the team a set of tasks that are well-suited to their own strengths and skills.
The main idea that we’re getting at here is that it’s not just enough to set your goals once and then leave them by the wayside without thinking about them every day. Nor is it enough to have one meeting with an accountability group and then blow each other off for a couple months down the road until you meet again.
In order to achieve real success towards meeting your goals and living out your dreams, you have to work on it every day. You need to monitor yourself and your progress towards those goals, and you also need to check in with your accountability group frequently and regularly in order to insure that the system of accountability is actually doing its job and helping each of its members to live out their visions and find their own successes. Continuous monitoring and alertness will ensure that your goals are working for you and that your accountability system is actually benefiting you—and not just becoming a set of chores that get slogged through haphazardly and unhelpfully.
We’ll be wrapping the series up in our final post, where we talk about how to take all these ideas that we’ve been exploring and make them into a continuous, habitual loop as part of your daily life.