Two Keys to Success: Managing Accountability and Expectations


Sitting in a meeting this morning I had a particular “moment of clarity”, to coin a phrase from Pulp Fiction (and the Big Book).   A couple of simple concepts came to mind that can make a big difference in how things go in your work life, and home life too.

Two keys to success are centered around Accountability and Expectations.  Get those two figured out, and ingrain them into your life.  The result will be progress toward your goal.  The result will be success.

Let’s start with a couple definitions.

According to the dictionary, Accountability refers to “the state of being accountable, liable, or answerable.”  In other words, it means being responsible, being aware, and taking ownership of any given task or set of tasks, and the associated outcome(s).  It means you won’t pass the buck. It means you have to be able to explain, if asked, what happened, whether it’s good, bad, or otherwise.

Under Expectation, you can find this definition: “the act or state of looking forward or anticipating.”  Clarity in communication is critical to how expectations are conveyed.  If you’re the Setter of Expectation, you need to make things clear and concise to who ever is being given the Expectation to live up to.  Being reasonable, though a somewhat vague concept, is equally clear in setting expectations.  Empathy helps here also, to have some idea of what the other party is feeling and will experience when they try to live up to that expectation.

All pretty simple, right?  But perhaps somewhat opaque?

Here’s an example of how these traits played out in a recent business transaction.

There’s this one project I’ve been working on of late.  The buyer is in southeast Asia.  We were trying to get a deal done to sell a piece of equipment.

We’d sent the proposal a while and the buyer came back interested in making a purchased.  We’d gone around on the commercial terms, including financing, logistics, etc.  Before long we came to agreement.  We offered a discount for a favorable payment term. They seemed pleased with that.  We thought we were on our way.  Expectations had been carefully and completely worked out on both sides.  We expected the order to come any day.  And it did.

Then the unwieldy bureaucratic requirements by the buyer’s central office stepped in the middle of the road.  Sent with the order was a separate agreement document that needed to be included.  This requirement was in addition to the standard purchase order document and involved quite a few (proposed) clauses/requirements.  We had done a few other deals previously with this buyer, but no such agreement had been required.  Expectations changed.

The agreement needed original signature and countersignature to proceed.  No money could change hands until the agreement had all the required sign-offs.  Sigh.

We reviewed the document with our legal department and by and large were ok with the agreement language.  We struck two sections from the agreement, which the buyer accepted.   This approach and related result was promising.  There was give and take.  We were in agreement with amendments. Things were aligning reasonably.

We sent the original signature agreement document via courier service.   A week later it was delivered, but the buyer then explained they really needed two copies, not one.   They hadn’t mentioned this clearly in previous communications.  We would have to send a second set via courier.  Nominal, extra costs would be incurred.

The cost of shipping across the Pacific is not cheap. Doing it twice is (obviously), twice the cost. Every dollar counts. Every dollar spent on costs not accounted for in pricing cuts into profits.

As a show of good faith and to get the deal done, we agreed to split the courier service charges with the buyer.  Fortunately we were able to create Accountability for both sides, and bring the deal close to fruition.

By creating and managing expectations and accountability through the process, we were able to reach mutual concession and thus, move the deal forward to close.

At least I hope so.  We’ve followed a good process to manage two of the factors that are critical to positive outcome:  Accountability and Expectations.

The deal’s not done yet tho’.  We’ll see.  ONWARD.


No Silos Please

grain silo

No Silos, if you please.

That’s not intended as a rip on our Midwest friends in the US farm belt and their grain storage strategy.  Rather, it’s a plea to everyone in every organization to use your feet rather than your hands, stop pointing fingers, and stand up and work TOGETHER to solve problems.  This is the way to be successful.

I’ve spent many years working for organizations of different sizes and with different purposes. I’ve seen it everywhere. People pointing fingers rather than joining hands, too quick with “It’s not my fault!” rather than “I messed up”, or at least “How can I help?”  It doesn’t stop there.  It’s not just shirking responsibility, it’s trying to push the blame to other departments or groups.

In a service business it’s Sales versus Operations.  In a manufacturing business it’s Production versus Sales.  I recall in the accounting world it was Tax versus Audit.   Throw the Finance, Billing and Procurement departments into the mix too, at times.  What do they all have in common when they’re NOT functioning well?

They’re operating and making decisions from “within a silo”, as it were.  What does this mean?

When a person or group is operating in a silo, the traditional meaning in organizational vernacular means something like, “groups/departments/business units not getting all the information they need to make decisions, operating without an understanding or appreciation for the bigger picture, etc.”

To my mind, being in a silo means people are choosing to play it safe rather than play together to make things better.

Jocko Willink and Leif Babin’s book, Extreme Ownership comes to mind.  To be successful in a team of any size, people need to take 100% personal responsibility for the decisions they make, the actions they take, the work they produce.   This maxim is true regardless of where you are in an organization, however big or (seemingly) small your role might be.

When we take ownership we move things forward rather than trying to pass the buck.  In fact, Harry Truman’s famous sign on his desk, “The Buck Stops Here”, is a spot-on parallel.

Sixty years later, another motto has been conceived borne from today’s times — “take extreme ownership” — but it means the same thing: Own it. Resolve not to make the same mistake twice. And work to make things better.

“Selling is Not Telling, It’s Asking Questions.” And it’s building relationships, too.

The phrase, “selling is not telling, it’s asking questions”, has been with me pretty much all of my work life. It’s one that rings true for me today as much as it did a long time ago when I first learned about the sales profession.

My first full-time “career” job had me selling logistics services to companies in the greater San Jose area as an “Account Representative”. Basically it was a entry-level field sales position.

I worked for a big, multinational company, and they provided plenty of training and reference materials to help their sales organization develop their knowledge and skills around the sales process (as the company saw it), and the services (products) we offered. The “selling is not telling” phrase came from one of those reference sheets I carried in my work bag.  I carried that reference sheet for a lot of years as a reminder.

Because we sold services, the “sale” often had a lot of nuance. This is where the questions came in.  Asking a lot of good questions, rather than just babbling on with a sales pitch, was the approach I learned, to uncover possible avenues for positioning our company’s service advantages vis-a-vis our competitors.

The old adage, “we have two ears and one mouth, and we should listen and talk in the same proportion” applied to the way I learned to do business.  Get folks talking, and then listen carefully.  Relationships were also very important to getting business, keeping business, and growing business.

These basic traits have held up well over the years.  Asking questions actually accomplishes both objectives.  By asking questions you learn more about your client (or “prospect”, if you’re not currently doing business together).  Also, if you’re sincere and respectful, the questions you ask demonstrate that you’re interested in the other person.  That circumstance helps nurture the underlying rapport, the relationship.

I have a good friend who’s been a sales guy as long as I have.  He’s also a business owner, and has done very well.  He might say that selling is also “persuading.”  That might be so.  But I think it’s the questions, the problems you uncover and help solve with the answers, and the relationships you develop and keep that lay the foundation. These traits are really at the core of doing business long-term.  And that’s good for everyone involved.

A Fresh Look at PTO: A Purposeful Minimalist Goes On Vacation

Wrote this piece last year before the family vacation.  Priming again this week for this year’s vacation, starting on Saturday.  Pretty stoked.  I fell a bit short of my “goals” last year — gonna have another go to make the most of each and every vacation day.

On average, annual “paid time off” in the United States (PTO in business-speak vernacular) is about 10 days.  Some people don’t even take THAT much time away from work during the year, aside from holidays.  

Link this fact with the ever-increasing pace of life and work, the increased awareness of the importance of having leisure time, unplugging, etc., and the rise of the minimalist movement in the face of it all and what might you conclude?  

It makes a lot of sense to approach time off from work very deliberately, very thoughtfully.  We need to be sure we vacation “on purpose”.   

If it’s true in everyday life, then the so-called “minimalist approach” makes even more sense for time away from work, in my view.  

We start with a shift in mind-set:  you’re on VACATION now, LEAVE, TIME OFF…pick your term, the point is, it’s time to forget about your work life for a while.  

The pending projects, the accounts receivable, the deliverables, the problems…but also the big wins, the successes, the long fought-for successes.  It’s time to turn off that part of your life for a bit.  This process takes effort. It must be done on purpose, as noted above.

When you leave your office or close your work laptop for the last time before vacation, mentally, actively file away everything that’s pending at work until you get back.  It’ll be there, don’t worry.  

It helps to make a list of everything you have pending BEFORE you go, a day or so before you leave, updated as necessary on that final day, so you can re-engage upon your return.

And then FORGET ABOUT IT.  That’s Step One.

Step Two requires equal purpose:  make a special effort to focus on what matters during your time off.  It’s best to think a little bit about it off and on in the weeks or days leading up to the beginning of the vacation.  

What do you want to accomplish? What’s the main goal (or goals) during your time off?  

In this particular case study (my upcoming trip to the beach with the family), I’ve got a clear idea of what I want to accomplish.

A few words sum things up nicely.

Relax and Unplug (from the day to day work mindset, attitude, pace).

Rest (naps as appropriate).

Reconnect (and go deeper, with the little things that make parenting and married life worth while). 

Recharge (naps as appropriate once again, but also allowing my mind to slow down, and wander).

To accomplish these four basic, inter-related goals, I know it will help for me to whittle down to basic needs, wants, requirements for the days off.  

What will be left will be my three little kids, my lovely wife, extended family, and time in an awesome, peaceful place.  

Taking purposeful steps to simplify will create a frame for the rest to happen.  As life unfolds each day, I’m going to watch it do so at a slow motion, participate deeply therein, and soak up the moments.   

 The following list is one of my preparation steps, my humble “minimalist” packing list for the five day family vacation at the beach:

1 sun hat

1 ball cap

1 hooded sweatshirt

1 water-resistant shell jacket

1 long-sleeve shirt

1 pair of warm/fleece pants

2 pair of shorts

3 tee shirts (plan to hand wash once)

3 underwear (plan to hand wash once)

1 pair of socks (plan to hand wash as needed)

1 pair of shoes

1 pair of flip flops

reading glasses

sun glasses



iPhone* for journaling notes, morning/evening news, emergency calls; 

*Important: NOT for emails

And so with just two days to go until me and the family drives south, this little outline and “statement of purpose” is my personal effort to get every drop of delicious value from this vacation.   

I’m fixin’ to do so.  I‘ll let you know how it turns out.  

See you on the other side.


#Worklife 1.0


Lately business has been a bit challenging.

With the energy sector in the space it is now (and has been for the past twelve months or so), budgets have been adjusted, belts have been tightened, plans have been scaled back.  In the capital equipment business, that means orders have slowed some, and the values have similarly shrunk.

There’s business to be had out there, but the sales cycle is often longer now, and the outcome more uncertain.  More rocks have to be flipped looking for opportunity, and you have to be dogged in your pursuit.   Lots of people are uncomfortable with the uncertainty, the slowed business. Candidly, I “feel” the same.  But at the end of the day, you can only do so much, and market reality is market reality.

Rather than trying to pull a rabbit out of the hat, you have to change with the conditions and keep moving forward.  Lots of folks think they understand the sales job. Many think they can do it (& many can for sure). But it’s not as easy as one might think.

Here are a few personal maxims that come to mind:

To thrive you must be able to adapt to change. And find inspiration everywhere. And self-motivate. And share the energy.

One of the key traits of a good sales person is managing, and overcoming, uncertainty. Lots of people struggle with that.

Patience, Perseverance, Tenacity, Creativity, & Positive Thinking: These are the main drivers behind successful sales people.  And probably safe to say, good life lessons for everyone.

Good Leaders Share Information

There are countless books and perspectives on leadership, but it really boils down to a few basic tenets.   One of those tenets is this:  “Good leaders share information.”

“That’s pretty vague”, you might say.  After all, what sort of information?  How often?  In what manner?  Here’s a little of what I’m getting at.

Good leadership means providing those in your charge understanding. By this I don’t only mean your understanding of them, but more importantly for their own development and maximum contribution to your enterprise, helping them understand the reasons behind decisions that are made.  In other words, being transparent.

Whether we’re talking about goals of the company, current health of the business, expectations for employees, professional partnerships, etc., it’s best to have all cards on the table.  The employees are more vested, and more able to align their own personal (professional) aspirations with the organization when they work in this environment.  Transparency gives employees a sense of involvement with and ownership of the business. The approach also allows the leadership to focus on what really matters:  the success of the entity they lead, and the people that make up that organization.

Using these basic strategies as noted above are not only effective for business organizations, but with some adjustments for age and related understanding, also provide a good foundation for management within a family. After all, trust and empowerment work well as building blocks for raising children, just as they do for developing the human capital in a company.   In fact, these principles are useful in government also.  But that’s for another post.

Of course, there are those that prefer the more Machiavellian approach to leadership.  Along these lines, people in positions of leadership like the prince in that famous novel by Machiavelli, use their power together with deceit, influence, manipulation, and selfishness to reign.  At some point though, especially in this day and age, that approach will fall short and the leader will end up alone, with no one to lead.

After mulling over this idea earlier today, I did some quick research and found this great piece by Glenn Llopis that provides additional insights, making the case for transparency business as a powerful tenet for leaders.  One of the central points he makes relates transparency to building and strengthening relationships.    I couldn’t agree more.

In the end it’s up to each leader, at whatever level he or she operates, to choose their path.  If they’re good, they’ll choose transparency. They’ll choose to be open, and share information.  It’s the only sensible way to lead.

Compromise is Like Sharing: Ya Gotta Do It

In the end, it’s all about compromise.  Most all of us rely on others for portions (at least) of our well-being and happiness. It follows then that compromise is necessary for all sides to be satisfied with the arrangements.

At home we count on our partner to get things done and they rely on us to do the same. Inevitably there are things that come up that we might not immediately have the same take on. That is the moment when compromise is helpful.

At work, there are frequently times when we’re working with co-workers and relying on them to complete assigned tasks to reach a common goal. Seldom do things go as planned, and compromise is helpful here as well.

Another way of thinking about compromise is “sharing”: that critical trait we’re taught as children to get along on the playground with others.  As Jack Johnson sings, “It’s always more fun, to share, with every one.”

She does the shopping, he does the dishes. He does the laundry, she folds.

You finish the content of the proposal, your co-worker proof-reads the text. Your customer agrees to favorable payment terms, you give a discount.

You let your friend go on the swing first, she lets you on the Monkey Bars ahead of her during the afternoon recess.

Compromise is like sharing for grown-ups. And it’s GOOD.