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.

Paraffins, Aflas®, Kalrez®, and Stomping Little Boys:  You Learn Something New Every Day

Truth be told, I should begin this post with one “stomping little boy”, since that was the learning opportunity I was faced with last night as soon as I got home.

Since that lesson carried over to this morning, I decided to add it to the list for today.

Before lunchtime today I’ve learned (and re-learned) about paraffins, Aflas®, and Kalrez®. Such is the glamour of working in my particular sector of capital lab equipment.

All three materials have properties that make them particularly useful for a variety of applications, especially where smooth running (lubrication) and being able to withstand very high temperatures are essential.

Come to think of it, those traits are not only useful in industrial applications, but also with respect to dealing successfully with stomping little boys.  One little dude in particular comes to mind.

My son just recently adopted this strategy for effectively communicating his displeasure, or at least frustration, with any given situation.  Since he can’t really talk yet, he resorts to the time-honored tradition of “body language”.

I usually react with a mix of humor and sympathy.  While it’s somewhat comical to see him react in such an immediate and extreme way,  I also feel bad that he’s feeling the frustrations he experiences that lead him to the stomp.

And so I try to empathize, respond with understanding and be even-keel along the way. At the same time, I also curse my own short-coming, when I’m unable to figure out what’s bothering him, help him find a solution and otherwise ease his angst.

So the underlying lessons?  Stay cool when things heat up, keep an open mind (and your sense of humor), be “smooth”, and stay after it – coping gets easier, and solutions present themselves eventually. Sometimes it just takes longer than you’d like.