One of the most phenomenally simple critical success factors for operating a thriving business revolves around the notion that “where your time and efforts go, so to goes your company.” For small business owners, this is a particularly relevant guiding principle, especially since we’re oftentimes pulled in so many different directions. In fact, after most days, you may find yourself thinking about “where the day went” and whether you actually accomplished anything strategic at all. Moreover, most small business owners gravitate towards the activities and duties that fit nicely within their skill sets. And this can be a very good thing if you’re a sales champion who loves nothing more than to cold call into the late evening hours each Friday, only to then take off for the weekend to leap small buildings in a single bound and rid the world of all evil.
But what if, like most of the rest of us, you’re not a business owner super hero? What if you’re the type that easily falls prey to non-revenue generating business distractions, or that procrastinates finishing off important projects that have the potential to push the business forward to new heights because they’re very time consuming and difficult to accomplish? If you fit into this category (and surprise news flash – most of us small business owners do), then you do have one potential secret super hero weapon that can help you avert being destroyed by this particularly powerful kryptonite. The weapon is none other than the far too infrequently used “accountability partner.”
But I Thought that Never Having to Answering to Someone was Why I Started a Business?
I know what most of you small business owners are thinking right now – the main reason you got into business for yourself in the first place was to avoid having to answer to “the man” or “the woman”. And the freedom that we enjoy as small business owners to run our companies without having to answer to anyone is certainly worth its weight in gold. But the simple truth is that far too many small business owners live on unoccupied islands all to themselves and fail to create an environment with sufficient structure and accountability – even if they’re surrounded by a stellar group of employees. There is a definitive reason that larger companies utilize board of directors and layers of management – because when we’re left to our own devices, we most likely won’t achieve our greatest potential.
Going back to the superhero analogy – if you are a super hero, and there are some people (very, very few) that are built in such a way that they need absolutely no external motivation or accountability in order to achieve their full potential, then you can go the path alone. But for the rest of us (especially small business owners because we have far fewer resources and connections than our larger competitors), the only way to maximize your potential is to institute some sort of accountability for you, as the owner, and your business on the whole.
Why Does Accountability Work for Small Business Owners?
As previously mentioned, running a small business is akin to attempting to file your tax return in the center stage of a three ring circus. There are so many distractions – even a mere unexpected phone call or email can completely derail the day. And if you add up all of these moments in time where distraction prevails and strategic thought and execution lose out, then the path to business success slowly fades, leaving your business faced with the high probability of entering the dreaded “failure” status alongside a large percentage of other businesses that don’t endure. Who is there for you to gently (or forcefully) nudge you in the right direction when you’re not accomplishing key projects? Who is there for you to help you push through procrastination? Who is there for you to offer you help in order to make a very important but difficult decision? If you’re the sole owner of your business, then the answer is literally “no one”. But if you have a trusted advisor or board to turn to for accountability and assistance, then you can avoid the pitfalls that plague most small businesses. Sure, you have to open yourself up to assessment and become somewhat vulnerable. But you can get the benefits of being held accountable for achieving goals and deadlines without losing the control that you so desire.
For those of you that are Convinced, Make Sure You Do Accountability the ‘Right Way’
As with most other things in life, there is a right way and a wrong way to do accountability partners. The wrong way is to do anything other than give it your full and complete effort. Accountability is not something that you can pretend your way through. Rather, in order to maintain a successful accountability partnership that truly pushes you and your business to new heights, you must:
- Choose someone or a group of people that won’t be afraid to ‘tell you like it is’
- Be fully honest, holding absolutely nothing back
- Meet regularly in order to maintain consistency
- Create fair and just punishment and consequences for failure to meet goals
Accountability Partnership Helped My Business Avoid a Train Wreck
There’s no better advice that words of wisdom that come from experience. A few years into my business, 3PLcompanies.net, the newness started to wear off and I became subject to the same types of distractions that every other small business owner is faced with each day. Most would consider me a highly driven, very self disciplined person. But after a couple of years of far too many hours and far too much stress, I started noticing some changes in my work performance. Not only was I allowing some of the less important distractions to take priority in my days, but I was also beginning to procrastinate on some of the most important projects that seemed like heavy weights that I simply couldn’t lift. As most of you small business owners can attest, some of the most significant, game-changing initiatives can be some of the most difficult projects to fully implement. Call it wear and tear from the small business roller coaster ride, I had lost my super hero status and was beginning to show chinks in the armor.
But then one fateful afternoon, I was very cleverly reminded of the importance of accountability partnership due to a very candid conversation with a close friend and business partner. He spilled his guts about how his business was experiencing extremely difficult challenges and just how much he needed some help to be able to turn things around. We decided that very moment to hold one another accountable. In particular, he was going to hold me accountable for accomplishing my strategic initiatives, and I was going to hold him accountable for spending more time on his “less than favorite” activities (namely, sales). Long story short, he and I both have propelled our businesses to new heights, achieving record sales and profitability this past year. I was tickled “pink” to see him consistently bring in a steady pipeline of sales prospects each month, whereas in the past sales prospects were hard to come by for him. And, of course, I was thrilled to death to see just how many projects I was able to knock off of the ‘to do’ list as a result of being held accountable.
Although it might take some serious “opening up” to being vulnerable, and despite the fact that it might circumvent some of the perceived freedom associated with running your small business, the successful implementation of an accountability program will absolutely, positively change the course of your business for the better. Like in my personal case, it can be as simple as a trusted friend. In other situations, perhaps a more formal outside board is appropriate. Regardless, if you want to take your small business to new heights, institute an accountability program and watch all of your strategic goals and initiatives become realities.