We've all heard the term 'accountability partners' but many of us don't appreciate just how valuable they can be in our business. This is especially important if you're a fairly new entrepreneur and you've just started getting your feet wet in the world of business. When I first quit my desk job at the age of 21, I really struggled to hold myself accountable to the things that needed completing in my business.
In this post, we'll explore the fundamentals of accountability, why it is so important and how it can work for any type of business.
The benefits of routine
Many of us make the transition from corporate employee to entrepreneur without fully appreciating the drastic change in mindset that is required. Working as an employee is extremely different to working for yourself and being fully accountable for the actions you take (and the ones you don't) in your business.
I really struggled as I made the transition from working in the corporate world to starting my own online business. I didn't realise how much of an impact routine had on my life while I was working a nine to five job. I used to rant and rave about how the nine to five working arrangements sucked the life out of people and tied them down to a routine that was awfully limiting - but I was completely naive to the fact that the accountability and structure associated with the job actually really helped me.
It disciplined me to do simple things like waking up early, being punctual and following through with things that needed to be done. This may sound like super simple basic things, but it's something that so many of us struggle with when we make the transition to entrepreneurship.
The power of accountability
Back in the corporate world, I had a powerful routine. The structural routine of waking up at a certain time and having to be in a certain place five days a week disciplined me and helped me become highly efficient in my work.
What is it that makes us so disciplined in our day jobs and why do we tend to slack off when we jump into doing our own thing?
Two things. Social pressure and consequences.
Social pressure & consequences
What happens if i'm late for work? What will everyone think? Are they going to think i'm a slacker? Am I going to get a disciplinary for my lateness?
These social pressures and consequences are the things that really push us to discipline ourselves in our day to day jobs. Group pressure is hugely effective in producing social conformity. Everyone in the office gets up at a certain time and i'm told I need to do that too so we are compelled to cultivate and maintain that structural routine.
A study on group pressure
One of the most famous studies completed on group pressure was conducted by a phsychologist, Solomon Asch. One of his earliest experiments involved a group of eight male college students performing a simple "perceptual" task. Seven out of eight students were actors and the real point of the experiment was to see how one person would react to the behaviour of his peers.
The actors knew the true aim of the experiment but were introduced to the subject as other participants. Each student was shown two cards. One with a line on it and the other with three lines labeled 'A' 'B' and 'C'. One of these lines on the second card was exactly the same as the line on the first card. Each participant was then asked to say which line matched the one on the first card. The group was arranged so that the real subject always answered last.
The results found that when the actors uttered the correct answer, the error rate was less than one percent. Interestingly, when the actors gave incorrect answers, the subject did the same 36.8% of the time. Seventy-five percent of subjects gave at least one incorrect answer over the course of the trials.
The bottom line
This study reveals that group pressure is extremely powerful. It literally has the power to change the way we perceive things externally.
Consequences also play a major role in helping us form discipline. If bad things are going to happen if we don't turn up for work on time then we're much more likely to maintain our punctuality.
Becoming accountable as an entrepreneur
As an entrepreneur, many of us branch out on our own. As a result of this, we don't have the social pressure and consequences that we've become so accustomed to in our day jobs. This is because we've been relying on external accountability to keep us in shape. A form of force to get us to do things we really don't want to do. True personal power is generated when an individual accomplishes things with his or her own will. Power from within - almost sounds mystical!
So how do we maintain the same level of accountability?
Sometimes having a big goal just isn't enough to really smash through that to-do list.
Here's how you can keep yourself accountable:
Declare it publicly
Tell people what you plan to do. Lay your plans out on the table for everyone to see. This instigates a form of social pressure that will push you to complete the goals you've set for yourself. With this strategy, it's important that you maintain regular contact with the people you declare your goals to. This isn't going to work if you stand in the street and belt out your goals to passers-by. If you're someone who keeps to their word, this strategy can be very effective for you.
Find an accountability partner
This is hands-down one of the most powerful ways to push and propel yourself forward in business. The value of having an accountability partner cannot be understated. Your accountability partner could be a mentor, friend or business partner. Ideally these should be people that share similar values with you so you can assist eachother in the most effective way. Don't pick someone who doesn't follow through with things and never keeps their word. (If i've just described your business partner, you really need to figure out if that type of partnership is going to serve your or not).
Bad things will happen
Setting up a negative consequence is another way for you to hold yourself accountable for your actions. Creating a negative consequence sets up a high amount of tension that will only resolve in two ways. Either you get the thing done or suffer the consequences, quite literally.
An important thing to note is that the consequence needs to be very undesirable. It can't be a minor thing that doesn't really bother you otherwise the tension won't be there. It has to be something that really bothers you. Equally importantly, it needs to be something specific. Ambiguity is the achilles' heel of accountability.
Some examples of negative consequences could be:
- Shaming on social media
- Giving money to people you don't like (this one really works!).
- Throwing away (your favourite) items of clothing.
These consequences may seem drastic, even crazy, but the point is that they work.
The bottom line
The key takeaway here is that these strategies will only be as strong as your commitment to them. Are you going to continue to cheat yourself or will you actually step up and hold yourself fully accountable for your actions?
You can start with small commitments to yourself and work your way up from there. Successful entrepreneurs hold themselves accountable and have an uncanny ability take action and move forwards while others stay stuck in procrastination.