In a previous blog, we wrote about the importance of accountability inside organizations and touched on three strategies for how business owners can and should hold themselves accountable. One of those strategies was finding an “accountability partner.” You may have heard this term before – the phrase has become common – but, as with all great ideas, implementing it can be tricky. So, given the importance of accountability and our positive experiences using accountability partners, we wanted to share some tips on the subject.
As a business owner, you know that the key to success is self-motivation. With no shareholders or board to answer to, you probably realized early on that your ability to set goals and work toward them is essential to the success of your business. Yet, business owners are only human, and every person has areas that they let slide or weak points and blind spots that they either can’t see or don’t know exactly how to improve. It’s also surprisingly easy to be vague with yourself and set general goals rather than committing yourself to SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, Time-bound) goals. This is where an accountability partner comes in. Not only will this person hold you accountable for your goals, but they will also push you to clarify your goals, which ironically is what makes the goals both motivational and achievable.
So who makes a good accountability partner? Try to identify a person based on their ability to truly hold you to your commitments, not on how good a friend they are. With good friends, it’s too easy to do what you do with yourself—let things slide. While having trusted colleagues and friends with whom you can regularly (and confidentially) vent is important, in general, your accountability partner should be someone you’d be embarrassed to report to if you hadn’t done your homework. Meeting with your partner should feel somewhat like meeting with your boss – you know, that feeling that you’d better complete your assignments before the meeting! We also recommend finding someone with experience in your industry, as knowledge lends context and clarity to the conversations. However, some people have great success with partners from other industries; they appreciate the pure accountability, rather than the mix of advice and accountability that someone in your industry may provide. Whatever works best for you is fine – just make sure the person inspires you to meet your commitments.
The frequency of your meetings will really depend on the pace of change you want to see. Meetings can be weekly, monthly, quarterly, or even annually—whatever makes the most sense for what you are trying to accomplish. I have a friend who meets annually with a group of business colleagues to do a deep dive into what they’ve accomplished in the past year and what their plans are for the upcoming year. They spend a couple of days, once a year, to really dig in, and all find the experience valuable. In sharp contrast, I meet with my partner once a week and identify the most important thing to focus on for the coming week, usually in context of a larger goal. Again, whatever works for you is fine – just define it clearly with your partner.
Last but not least, don’t forget that the partnership is a two-way street! In addition to taking your part seriously and being rigorous about accomplishing goals and taking action steps, you will need to be a good accountability partner as well—listening closely, offering thoughtful and sound advice, and keeping track of what the other person committed to doing and by when. Overall, keep an eye out for imbalance in the relationship/commitment and work to correct the imbalance if possible, or find a new partner if not. The partnership will continue as long as both people find it useful in achieving their goals.