Accountability is one characteristic that is present every time success is realized on a big engineering project or any project undertaking. Think about the major goals you’ve accomplished in your personal life and your engineering career. University work entails accountability – exams, papers or projects, and semester grades. With the F.E. or P.E. exams, it’s the pre-tests and then the actual exam itself. In working on engineering projects, we find project schedules, work breakdown structures, and stakeholder milestone update reports.
In our professional endeavors accountability exists to ensure that standards are being maintained and that work is being accomplished according to an agreed upon timeline. Without accountability, where does the motivation come from?
Why We Need Accountability to Be Successful
In the ideal world each of us has the self-discipline to deliver the goods in every situation. But the fact is, in the engineering world we don’t. That’s why people and project teams fall short of challenging goals. It’s why over 60% of people who start a new year’s resolution fall off the wagon within a month. It’s why I look forward to February in the gym every year…no need to wait for equipment to free up.
However, in situations where a person gets a buddy, a coach, or finds their way into an accountability group the results are different. On challenging tasks, they stick with it despite how uncomfortable it might feel. What’s going on here?
What’s going on has to do with one particular chemical in our body and the effect it has on our brains. That chemical is serotonin, the “selfless” chemical. It’s what makes us feel valued in the company of other people we trust and it’s what inspires us to work for a group’s greater good.
When we enter into any type of accountability relationship, we build bonds of trust with the other person/people and that trust is what spurs us on to keep our end of the bargain. Without us consciously knowing about it, serotonin encourages us to work hard to make our group proud.
With accountability, we feel compelled to achieve what we say we’re going to do. When we accomplish what we say we’re going to do, regardless how small the task might be, we get another blast of chemicals in the mind, this time from dopamine.
Why we need accountability to be successful in our pursuits, then, has to do with our body’s natural way to make us feel good. When we feel good we feel fulfilled and when we feel fulfilled, we tend to feel energetic and motivated to be creative and to achieve.
5 Reasons To Get Accountable Today
Beyond feeling happy and fulfilled, being accountable:
Keeps Us Focused on the Details. When we’re accountable to another person or group – or if we have the discipline to hold ourselves accountable – we are naturally compelled to focus on the details. Because it’s in the details where success is ensured. For example, every engineering project carries risk. If an engineering organization holds project managers accountable for project effectiveness and meeting milestones, it is more likely see projects delivered according to scope, on time, and within budget. Arriving at the center of the project management triangle happens when a project manager focuses on the details. Accountability helps maintain that focus.
Keeps Us On Schedule. Let’s say you have a project proposal due in three months. When do you start on it? Immediately? In a month? A week before it’s due? It probably depends on how disciplined you are and what’s riding on winning the project. If you know that you’re prone to procrastination, building an accountability structure will be crucial to getting the proposal done because you’re instilling a schedule. Even if you’re not a prolific procrastinator, without milestones in place you have no way to measure performance towards completion. We run projects in the industry according to set schedules for a reason – to deliver benefits as part of an overall strategy to impart value in the world. Without schedules, you have chaos. With schedules that are met, you have success.
Keeps Us Honest. Akin to keeping on schedule, accountability keeps us truthful to others and ourselves. This is especially useful when we’re undertaking projects of self-development. It’s really easy to tell yourself everything’s just fine when in fact, it’s a disaster. With accountability, we can’t hide the ugly facts and have to face them. It’s when we face the uncomfortable that we have the opportunity to move beyond limiting beliefs and expand our past levels of success.
Keeps Us In The Trench. There’s nothing like a good dose of accountability to keep one in the trench, working away to deliver the goods. In every situation where I had a deadline for an important project and knew that my career, and the mission, was on the line, I worked my ass off. I recall one stretch of time back in 2002 leading up to the Iraq invasion, where I worked 85 days straight to meet a deadline. Was I accountable for something important? You bet. Failure wasn’t going to happen because I did give it everything I had. Accountability keeps us working when others cash out.
Keeps Us Doing What’s Needed, Even When We Don’t Feel Like It. There’s a reason successful weight loss programs stress that participants have an accountability buddy. The buddy is what keeps the participant doing what needs to be done when the participant is ready to give up. The challenging goals we undertake in our careers and lives call for a buddy, because at some point you’re going to face a setback that pushes you to toss in the towel. Being accountable to someone is what will keep you on vector and what will deliver you to success.
Accountability Through Mastermind Groups
One type of accountability arrangement is through a mastermind group. I first learned of a mastermind group when reading Napoleon Hill’s book Think And Grow Rich. He wrote about the Mastermind principle as: “The coordination of knowledge and effort of two or more people, who work toward a definite purpose, in the spirit of harmony.”
He continues…”No two minds ever come together without thereby creating a third, invisible intangible force, which may be likened to a third mind.”
In a mastermind group, the agenda belongs to the group, and each person’s participation is key. Your peers give you feedback, help you brainstorm new possibilities, and set up accountability structures that keep you focused and on track. You will create a community of supportive colleagues who will brainstorm together to move the group to new heights.
This is something that Anthony and I are planning to do, and are really interested in implementing it within the Institute for Engineering Career Development. We’ve each run mini-mastermind groups with members in the past to great effect and we’re embarking on a mastermind group ourselves this month. Even when you have discipline, focus, drive and motivation, being accountable to someone is a sure-fire way to exceed even your own expectations.
And get a nice blast of serotonin to boot.
Christian J. Knutson, P.E., PMP
Engineering Management Institute
Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net