The invisible currency of integrity

It usually boils down to that one moment. You’re in bed, and your alarm goes off. You have made a commitment to be somewhere, maybe the gym, a meeting or the coffee shop to do some writing.

The excitement you felt when making this commitment has worn off, and all you can hear is the siren’s call of the snooze button, urging you to stay in bed and get back to sleep.

Abandon your commitments…

A close friend of mine faced this choice recently, we’ll call him Bruce. He is a professor that teaches entrepreneurship. Bruce constantly talks about the value of your word and living up to your commitments as a core skill for entrepreneurs.

His way of doing office hours is offering a breakfast meeting to anyone who attends a 6:30 am Jiu Jitsu class with him. He announced this publicly with his students and colleagues. This serves as a not-so-subtle barrier to entry for people to get time with him. But it also was a clever accountability system for himself. Knowing that someone could be there to meet him that week gives him one more reason to get out of bed early and get there.

Bruce found himself in that crucial moment early in the morning. He had been up late at an event the night before, and several students had discussed ideas with him and mentioned they were coming to the Jiu Jitsu class in the morning.

But that was last night. These students made this commitment to be there in the midst of discussing exciting ideas, but surely once the sound of the alarm woke them in the morning, they wouldn’t show.

But a small voice in Bruce’s head cut through the desire to go back to sleep and he managed to make a coffee and make his way to the studio.

Sure enough, five people from the night before were there warming up on the mat.

If Bruce had not shown up on that fateful morning, everything he had been building up in his lessons on keeping your word over the past few weeks would have been undone.

But this is where the true magic happened. Bruce felt a great deal of gratitude and respect for those five people that kept their word and appeared where and when they said they would, and held him to the same standard.

What happens in vagueness, stays in vagueness…

It turns out that most people are terrible at keeping commitments. But few people actually plan to escape a commitment or sabotage one. There’s no evil scheme or deception happening. So why does this seem to happen so often?

Dr Evil

It turns out that in the “normal world”, there’s not much obvious or immediate consequence, to not keeping your word. Since most people can get away with mediocre commitments their whole lives, they never learn the core skills of keeping their word.

People chalk it up to “shit happens” and move on. But every time you miss a commitment with someone, it slowly erodes the trust between you. You never know how this could impact you down the road. You may be passed up for a promotion, or overlooked for a once in a lifetime opportunity.

Failing to keep your word also corrodes your self-confidence. Your brain is keeping score of your commitments, and every time you miss something, you feel slightly less in control of your own life and your competency to make things happen.

The invisible currency of keeping your word

How valuable is keeping your commitments? It could mean the difference between life and death for your business, or worse, between a thriving and successful business or a middling and struggling one. If you have trouble managing commitments and accountability for your business, you are blind to the bigger risks your business faces.

Adam Josephs of Celerity Consulting has dedicated his life to helping people keep their commitments. He travels the world working with different businesses, corporations and institutions.

Adam helps teams use conversations as a tool to achieve more and identify risks in the businesses he works with. There are four pillars to these conversations:

  • Integrity – You do what you say.
  • Commitment – Stand for the integrity of a decision; you can bet the business that the promise will be kept, and you give up the right to complain.
  • Accountability – Singular ownership of a result. There’s one person directly responsible for the completion of the task, not necessarily doing it, but making sure it gets done.
  • Transparency – Specific and measurable. The ability to know the state that you are in.

If you can establish these pillars in a conversation, then you can begin to have a much more interesting discussion about what risks you face, what work actually got done, who is committed and accountable for getting specific results.

A team with integrity will be able to more accurately assess why something went right or wrong on a project and change course (if necessary) with better guidance.

We’ll talk about some simple tools you can use to create conversations like this and support your commitments later in the post.

More clarity means better commitments

A big problem with keeping our commitments stems from our communication style. When we make our commitments, we often don’t take the time to explore what that really means.

If you tell your business partner, “the website will be done next week,” that’s a commitment, but it’s flimsy because of how vague it is. Does “done” mean the website will be live and viewable? Or will the design be completed but you still need to host it? Will someone be able to make a purchase, or will the “buy now” button come later? What’s the exact time the site will be ready for a customer to make a purchase? Each of these unanswered questions are little escape routes to get out of the commitment.

If you work on a remote team, this precise communication can be even more difficult.Your writing must be all the more precise to make up for the lack of context that face-to-face interactions provide. Any room for interpretation is dangerous.

If you want to improve your results oriented communication, I recommend checking out: A simple system for effective team communication.

It’s painful to draw this level of commitment out of people, as it feels like unnecessary micromanaging to the average person. But asking these questions changes the conversation as you explore the definition of what “done” really means with your team member.

Digging deeper can change “the website will be done next week” to “the website will be live with a working buy-it-now button and ready for customers on Thursday at 2pm.” There’s a clearer picture of what actually needs to get done, and can gives you a better answer for when it will happen.

How to make accountability work for you

Like we learned from Bruce’s story, he was grateful for the people that held him to his word because it helped him become the person he wanted to be. It got him out of bed on that cold morning and into the studio exercising and bettering his life.

When you start to understand the value and importance of your integrity, you can enroll the people around you to help you become the person you want to become. This is not limited to the teams you work with, it is just as effective with your personal relationships and goals.

It’s important to understand how you respond to accountability, as not everyone does in the same way. Gretchen Rubin discusses this in her book, Better Than Before, and outlines “The Four Tendencies” of people.

  • Upholders respond readily to outer and inner expectations.
  • Questioners question all expectations; they’ll meet an expectation if they think it makes sense–essentially, they make all expectations into inner expectations.
  • Obligers meet outer expectations, but struggle to meet expectations they impose on themselves.
  • Rebels resist all expectations, outer and inner alike.

She has an online quiz you can check out here to find out for yourself.

There’s no “better” or “worse” tendency, but once you understand which you are, you can begin to set up systems of accountability that you thrive in.

I found myself to be an Obliger. Which is why I enjoy mastermind groups and programs like The Foundry which allow me to surround myself with people who will hold me accountable to the commitments I make, both professional and personal.

Tools for keeping commitments

The simplest tool for keeping commitments is to have a list of commitments you make on you at all times. I like to use the reminders app on my iPhone but there’s plenty of other tools out there. Every time you make a commitment write it down immediately. If it’s time sensitive add a time to remind you. I learned this simple trick from Sebastian Marshall’s book Progression.

This can be used for both simple commitments like meeting for dinner with a friend next week, or returning something you borrowed, to promising your audience to have your product ready for launch next month. Check this list every day when making a plan for what you will do.

In the Foundry at Lassonde Studios, we practice keeping our commitments by publicly documenting them for the group, so we can all hold eachother accountable.

We do this using a tool called a Management Report. It’s a simple document where we outline our progress growing our business, but it can be used to track any kind of project or goal. We cover four areas on the report.

  • Your priorities – Our priorities give context to the rest of the report. These should point to what’s most important for your business or your goal at the moment. The rest of the report should show that the actions you take or will take match our priorities.
  • The progress made this week – Any progress we made to advancing our business. We explain what we did, and why it is important to the project.
  • Plans for next week – This is where integrity comes in. We make plans for what we will do the following week. In a perfect world, we can copy this section and put it in next week’s progress section and only change the writing to past tense.
  • The problems that are holding you back – Any problems that are keeping us from achieving our goals or progress. We explain what the problem is, the consequences if they go unsolved and what kind of help we need to solve the problem.

Even if you don’t have a community with whom you can share this report, doing a weekly review to track these four things should shed some light on your ability to do what you say you’ll do.

With practice, this document should take only 15-30 minutes each week to update and maintain. It gives people a bird’s eye view into the action you are taking and your integrity. If you have a group of people committed to creating these documents and reviewing them, you can support each other in advancing your goals and overcoming the challenges you face.

Conclusion

Trust is a scarce resource in this world. With technology making it so easy to access unlimited information instantly and connect with almost anyone, trust becomes crucial to navigating and finding the quality amongst the noise.

The ability to keep your word and do what you say is one of the most valuable skills you can cultivate. Remember that it is a muscle you can work and develop. If you’re not good at it now, you’re not doomed to a life of flimsiness. With practice you’ll enjoy better relationships, a greater sense of control in your life, and more support in achieving your goals.

Kyle Gray

Kyle Gray is the founder of Conversion Cake, where he helps small businesses and startups with content marketing strategy and sales funnels. He is also the author of “The College Entrepreneur” a guide that teaches students how to build an entrepreneurial skillset while in school and use their university’s resources to help them build something amazing.

  • I might add, that doing what you say you’ll do is a quintessentially masculine quality. It, along with discretion, have been sadly fading in modernity.

  • @vicdorfman:disqus that’s an interesting thought. I had never associated it with gender before. I can see how it could be viewed as a masculine quality as men tend to focus on action over feelings in life. Though I think it is a quality that women can embrace and embody as well.

    I do agree it is something that has been fading in modernity. With technology making so many opportunities and distractions visible, it’s hard to get anything done that you want without being overwhelmed with FOMO or getting side-tracked by whatever “urgent” thing appears in our path. Do you agree? or do you have another view why this is becoming rarer?

    Something that I saw on the comments when I shared this on my Facebook that I didn’t mention much in the article was how crucial the ability to say “no” is to keeping commitments. It’s often easier in the short run to make flimsy commitments to save face in the moment, then back out later from a safe distance. This is a skill I have been working on over the last few years.

  • Good article Kyle. It made me think. Working on integrity like this is very thoughtful, and I think very difficult for the “conscious incompetent” (confused) person. Who knows what percentage of people do this type of self-analysis on an on-going basis.

    I know that I do several times a year. Lately I’ve been working more on multiplying my actions than planning. Although I do realize you’re suggesting this as a guide to get started and go back to.

    There are quite a few books like “Think and Grow Rich” and “Millionaire Master Plan” to name two that write about and suggest doing similar exercises to grow as a person.

    Thanks for Tweeting this article out. Keep it up!

  • Thanks for reading Gary! I’m glad it was helpful. “Think and Grow Rich” was one of my favorite books getting started, and I think the simplicity of that book is what makes it so brilliant.

    You like using that “Conscious incompetent” phrase. I feel like that all the time too. But I think it’s a good sign. The more often you’re in the conscious incompetent phase, it means you’re learning and growing and challenging yourself.

    What have you been doing to multiply your actions? Any good recommendations for articles that you have been using for that?