philosophy,  leadership,  accountability

How you do something, is how you do everything

Holding yourself accountable

How you do something, is how you do everything

How you do something is how you do everything

How often do we as individuals or collectively in groups put off certain things as inconsequential, and rush to deliver something that is “good enough”? How often do we put off a small-time investment to polish up on anything because it is not that important? This is a typical mindset and one that may not be entirely conscious if it has been done long enough to become a habit. Some examples:

  • That email that is sent out with grammar issues that creates a negative impression of you and the team you represent.
  • The lack of artifacts and documentation in a team for things like onboarding and offboarding of new colleagues or documentation of processes and practices.
  • The tardiness to the meeting that is only a few minutes, and no one should notice, right?
  • The hastiness when delivering feedback that leaves out the key details.
  • That one thing you keep telling yourself you will get to but never do.

Often, we put off doing things properly as either being insignificant or demanding too much time that we do not have yet. A lot of times we end up having to revisit that same thing again and again due to not getting it right the first time.

Over the years I have noticed that teams or individuals that don’t mind dropping the ball in one area believing it is not all that significant all tend to have the following traits:

  • Lack of unanimity on what areas are okay to drop the ball on and as such eventually things spiral out of control as everyone makes their own decisions on what to mediocre in.
  • Communication is not great in these teams, and it usually only takes one or two individuals to not do it well and be allowed to, for the whole team to struggle in this area.
  • Tasks that can be done right once and replicated with ease are instead rushed and then repeated haphazardly and without consistency.
  • Lack of consistency in delivery. A tell-tale sign is when you can look at what is delivered and easily tell which team member worked on what.
  • An ever-growing list of things that get put off that no one ever gets to.

A key observation for me has been that the situation increasingly gets worse over time and the same attitude starts to get applied in other areas that are not too apparent but have consequences regardless. The broken windows theory explains why things we put off ultimately spiral out of control by stating that any observable signs of disorder such as broken windows form an environment that encourages even more disorder. Consequently, by ignoring the “little” things you soon forfeit control of much more to this mindset. After all, if you allow your hedge to overgrow, would you really notice when your lawn requires a trim?

So how do we manage this? Well, we tackle this much like Mayor Giuliani tackled the severe issues New York City was facing prior to 1993. Let’s glance at some statistics on what he accomplished first (source: The American Presidency Project)

  • In 1993, there were 11,545 major crimes per week; By 2001, that number dropped to 5,072.
  • Between 1993 and 2001, New York City experienced a 66% decline in murders.
  • During the same period, there was a 72% decline in shootings.
  • In addition to the decline in murders, New York saw a 45.7% decline in rapes, a 67.2% decline in robberies, a 39.6% decline in aggravated assault, a 68.2% decline in burglary, a 43% decline in larceny, and a 73.3% decline in motor vehicle theft.

He accomplished all this by “repairing all the broken windows”; tackling vandalism, loitering, public drinking, jaywalking, transport fare evasion, and more to create an environment that discouraged crime and disorder. Once the environment looked and felt good the residents treated it with regard and pride.

Similarly, this is how we can guarantee that we remain committed to delivering at the highest standard across the board. Once the quality is baked into our minds and there is no tolerance for dropping the ball you will notice consistency, a sort of synergy even within teams as more projects and challenges are taken on. These are a few heuristics to evaluate when this is going well:

  • Communication is healthy. We engage in a professional and expressive manner that cultivates strong relations. We return every phone call and reply to every message and email. We express ourselves with empathy and respect.
  • Delivery is done once and well. We do not scurry through delivery only to have to rework things at the expense of the next commitment.
  • Processes are regularly reviewed and evaluated to ensure that no broken windows are ignored. This is key to preserving this mindset at least long enough to make it a habit.
  • Doing things well does not have a big impact on the effort or time required to deliver, especially when repeated.

“How you do anything, is how you do everything” has become a favored quote of mine, and really by contemplating on this often and acting I feel it has served me well. An early experience that helped me to always aspire to do all things well was participating in athletics back in my high school days. I aimed to improve my 100m sprint time and what I noticed in my attempts was that I could not “just” improve it. To achieve that I had to improve everything it took to do the dash, even if by a teeny bit. Surprisingly that meant a whole lot of things would require attention like how well my start was, my stamina, rest, and diet, and many more had to be improved. Interestingly some of the things I had initially put off as being insignificant turned out to have the greatest impact and the success in addressing those created a habit for me to pursue the other changes with the right attitude. Soon I was applying this mindset to my academics, relationships, parenting, and work with similar success.

Contemplate this and see what you can apply to yourself or your team. Here are a few questions that may guide you in that process: 

  • Are you applying discipline and structure in all you do?
  • When you put off things are you being critical and objective about why or are you seeking a reason to justify the action?
  • If you continue to work in the manner and pace, you do now how will things look a year from now?
  • Are you putting off meetings and events because you are too busy?
  • Imagine a backlog of anything you must get done as a trashcan. Do you put off taking five minutes to empty the trashcan and ultimately must deal with a greater situation once the trash starts to spill over?

If you don’t do the “unimportant stuff” well, do not be surprised if you cease doing anything well at all. Once you tolerate mediocracy in one area you have simply tolerated it in all your doings, period. It really is all about doing the little things well and consistently. Apply this in your work, personal life, and everything else in between to unlock great success and satisfaction. Of course, keep an eye on doing things well by avoiding cutting corners without necessarily aiming for perfectionism as that can easily burn you out. 

In closing recognize this, repetition makes habits!