How many of you are like me in that if you don’t have a calendar invite or a task written down then it doesn’t get done? I can think of at least 30 different tasks or meetings that are repeating on my calendar (okay, maybe I’m a little obsessive about all of that, but I digress…). This is a form of accountability, and if you’re anything like me, it’s highly effective for making sure we get to those meetings or complete those tasks.
In the context of financial counseling, this has been a topic that has come up repeatedly in my interactions with other financial professionals over the past two years. For those who don’t know me, my name is Stephen Newland and I oversee the financial education program at North Point Community Church in Atlanta. I also have a private financial counseling practice called Find Your Money Path.
An interesting phenomena I’ve noticed is that after attending a financial-based group using specific curriculum over a period of a couple months, participants came in to meet with me about six months after completing the group. They said that they learned a lot during the group, but they never implemented the changes they desired. I always asked why, and the resounding answer time and time again was, “I didn’t have anyone to hold me accountable.”
As it turns out, a recent study on accountability was done by the Association for Talent Development. This article references the study https://uponly.co/2015/01/08/how-to-increase-the-odds-of-reaching-your-goals-by-85-2/.
The researchers found that individuals have the following probabilities of completing a goal by taking these actions:
- Having an idea or goal: 10% likely to complete the goal
- Consciously deciding that you will do it: 25%
- Deciding when you will do it: 40%
- Planning how to do it: 50%
- Committing to someone that you will do it: 65%
- Having a specific accountability appointment with someone you’ve committed to: 95%
We’ve all heard that you’re more likely to achieve a goal by writing it down, right? I think what we needto say is that by having scheduled accountability with someone, you only have a 5% chance of NOT achieving your goal! Intuitively this makes sense, but I don’t think I would have guessed that the likelihood of completing a goal would have been in the 95% range with accountability. That’s incredible!
This actually makes me think about fitness and weight loss programs. Part of a program like Weight Watchers requires a weekly weigh-in by another person at a Weight Watchers meeting. I don’t know about you, but that would be more than enough for me to re-think having an extra donut on Saturday morning.
So how can we apply this to the world of financial counseling? In some ways we already act as accountability partners to our clients or those going through our programs. I think there are opportunities for us to think about how we can incorporate accountability into our offerings, whether that’s through building a community among our clients to support each other, encouraging clients to find accountability partners in their own circles, or by offering low-cost options for financial counselors to act as on-going accountability partners. There are certainly some dangers of wanting the client to move on and own the process, but I think if done right, you can transition from a financial counseling relationship to an accountability one.
Thomas Oppong has a great article on Medium (https://medium.com/the-mission/the-accountability-effect-a-simple-way-to-achieve-your-goals-and-boost-your-performance-8a07c76ef53a) that outlines some practical ways to help people develop this habit of accountability. One of the tools he recommends is signing a commitment contract addressed to yourself. He mentions the app, StickK (https://www.stickk.com), which actually allows users to commit to a goal and sign a commitment contract. Another motivating tool that can be used is by watching others commit to their goals and be held accountablepublicly. By seeing the success of others, it may motivate our clients to make changes. Thomas references the reality TV show This Time Next Yearin which contestants commit to a goal and then update their progress publicly a year later.
In the social media culture surrounding us, our clients face an uphill battle with commitment and contentment every single day. Our clients are constantly exposed to outside "shiny objects" that can cause them to fall off track because they are looking at what other people have and aren't content with what they have. Who knows when that weak moment will come to that client who is a few months down the road in paying back his/her $30k in student loans? All it takes is one or two Instagram posts to raise doubts as to whether he or she really does want to sacrifice every month to pay loans off a few years sooner. If your clients are plugged in with an accountability partner or a community of others who are working with a financial counselor, they have a force to counteract what culture shows on an ongoing basis.
Given that we have some basic proof on the power of accountability, we owe it to ourselves, and our clients to figure out new and innovative ways to introduce this into our practices and programs. If we build a culture of accountability among our clients—not in a fearful way but in a helpful way—I can only imagine the results that we could see with clients in the future.
Stephen Newland is the Director of MoneyWise at North Point Community Church in Atlanta, Georgia and Owner/Founder of Money Path financial coaching, his private practice. He also works on demand for Zeiders Enterprises Inc. counseling and educating services members and their families. He is the host of the Find Your Money Path Show, a twice a week podcast that quickly highlights various personal finance topics. He lives in Atlanta, GA with his wife Rachael and his two dogs, Mackenzie and Maxwell.