Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Accountability Partners

Working with an Accountability Partner is as Easy as 3-2-1
Sandy Cameli, EdD • Hawaii Dept. of Education • Honolulu, Hawaii

It’s that time of year again when goals are set, resolutions are made, and fresh starts begin with the hope of identifying more good habits than bad ones for the eternal optimists. Why then do old habits (usually non-productive ones) creep back into our routines when we least expect it? How can most people ride the high of a Happy New Year, yet feel the doldrums of defeat by early Spring? And, how can proactive and productive leaders continue to feed their souls through personal and professional accomplishments without succumbing to failure during the February Flop?

In various circles, individuals rely on built-in support systems to meet their goals. Athletes find training partners to condition; students utilize study groups to share and acquire knowledge; and, community organizations unite around service projects. It is the accountability or a common purpose with others that tends to yield successful outcomes. How then can this “accountability” mindset be applied to an individual seeking that same feeling of accomplishment when the world seems to speed by on a daily basis?

For the last 18 months, I have built weekly conversations into my routine with an Accountability Partner. I was thrilled to find a colleague who also was seeking a way to enhance her individual growth, but like me wasn’t quite sure where to begin. Between hectic work and family responsibilities, little or no opportunities for formal meetings seemed to exist. However, we needed to find a way to support one another, while also balancing our insanely busy lives. We started by deciding to commit to a set time limit, and frequency. After multiple proposals, we settled upon a 20-minute phone call on Friday mornings before either of us left for work. And, barring extreme circumstances (ie: travel, sick child, vacation), we made a commitment to listen, share and support each other for personal and professional growth.

The next step was to decide how to spend the 20 minutes. If the purpose of our calls was to keep each of us accountable, then we needed a structure or protocol to guide the conversation. Based on a writing reflection tool, we adopted the 3-2-1 Reflective Protocol to focus our calls. The tool requires each of us to prepare for the Friday morning sessions by reviewing the preceding week, and identifying “3” achievements, accomplishments or validations. The 3 items shared set a positive tone for the conversation and encourage the listener to probe by asking inquiring questions. After one of us shares, the other follows suit by highlighting three positives outcomes as well. Examples have included: finishing a book started last month, trying a new plant-based recipe with the family, invitation to present at upcoming conference, set up Twitter account….etc.

Alternating turns, we move onto the “2s” which represent wonderings or musings each of us are toying with throughout the week. Sometimes the queries are action-oriented and invite the listener to share her perspective or suggestion, while other ponderings are lofty with a just-putting-it-out-there sentiment attached.  Examples have included: What does the philosophy “Freedom vs Fences” mean? Why am I procrastinating over something easy or interesting to do? How will I maximize downtime - while caring for sick family member - and still meet other responsibilities? At what point does someone outgrow their current position/role, and how would one know when to move on? … etc.

Finally, we each share “1” actionable item we intend to complete in the upcoming week. This really is where the accountability focus comes into play. By verbalizing a goal to another set of ears, I feel compelled to complete such a task in order to share my achievement during our next conversation. And, although there is never judgement from either partner if a goal is not attained, it helps to prioritize tasks throughout the week or reshuffle responsibilities that may get in the way of reaching a target. Additionally, if I aim to achieve something, yet find it continues to be unfinished or incomplete, my Accountability Partner is a great sounding board to help identify barriers or obstacles I may not have been previously aware of. Examples have included: organizing taxes in mid-January, draft/submit proposal to upcoming conference, register for a charity run/walk, refresh emergency kit for car or hurricane season, restarting an exercise routine (again!)….etc. Theoretically, a “1” can become a “3” the following week depending upon the duration of the goal.

So what has the Accountability Partner process done for me? I find the 20 (sometimes 30 minute) calls have become a seamless part of my weekly routine, and provide an optimistic mindset as I head into Fridays, and the weekends. The quick touch-base conversations have helped to validate short and long-term accomplishments, pushed my thinking about various topics, and kept me on-track with reasonable goals for the future.

The 3-2-1 model may not meet the needs of all leaders or professionals, nor do Friday mornings align to everyone’s schedule, however, the example shared has been an effective structure for keeping at least two of us on track as we continue to balance personal and professional lives (since 2016!) And, as another calendar year closes with a new 365 days on the horizon, it’s important to find those strategies and structures which support goals, while also fueling our minds, bodies and souls.