The Other Side of Peer Accountability

Nov 13, 2018   |   By Joe James

As our company grows, there is an increased emphasis on peer accountability. Peer accountability is the deliberate effort of members of a group to ensure that one another adheres to group norms, rules, and expectations with minimal to zero management intervention. In SEI’s flat organizational structure, it’s a critical foundation for the health of both small and large offices. However, peer accountability sometimes has a negative connotation because people think it’s about confronting others regarding failures or issues. Personally, peer accountability seemed like a good way to create an awkward situation between two colleagues, especially in a flat organizational model like SEI. That was until a colleague helped me realize that it was just a personal distillation of what SEI does as an organization: support each individual in being their best.

I’m a data person. I enjoy following data through every aspect of its lifecycle: input, transformation, storage, presentation, etc. Being steeped in data, I became well versed in the concepts of data quality. I’ve implemented frameworks at clients and would talk the ear off anyone who wanted to know about data quality. I had a lot to share, but wouldn’t until asked. That’s the other type of person I am: an off-the-charts introvert (I have the Myers-Brigg and DISC profiles to prove it). Activities, like speaking in front of large groups or doing a presentation made me anxious. I’m sure that any introvert reading this can identify with the personal horror of an audience judging every word you say, every slide you present, and the unknown questions that could pop-up during a Q&A. The idea of sharing my data quality knowledge in a group setting was something I actively avoided. That was until one of my colleagues decided to hold me accountable.

A fellow SEI’er approached me with the idea that I should share my data quality expertise, so she asked me to write the white paper and present at the Data Management Association of Atlanta (DAMA). The white paper was fine, but my initial reaction at presenting…was a feeling I could best describe as a knot in the pit of my stomach. My colleague knew me well and, before I could turn down the opportunity, assured me that she would provide whatever help I needed. With hesitation, I agreed, and she kept her end of the bargain. Leading up to the event, she kept me on track for putting my content together, spent several lunches polishing the presentation, and provided honest input when I needed it. On the big day she handled all the details; directions to the venue, getting me water, extra batteries for the clicker, handing out my business card, to name a few, so that I could focus on presenting to the best of my ability. She held me accountable for sharing my expertise and supported me the entire way!

Sometime after the presentation, my CEO expressed their surprise that I would take such a large step in my personal and professional development and agree to the presentation. I joked that my colleague had “held me accountable” to share my knowledge around data quality. It was then that it dawned on me that this was the other side of peer accountability. Peer accountability doesn’t always have to be pointing out a failure or issue with someone else; it could be pushing people to do what they wouldn’t normally do. Pushing them out of their comfort zone and coaching them towards success.

It’s something we’ve always done at SEI; hold every consultant, whether it be intra-office or across the organization, to high standards and collaborate to ensure that every individual has what they need to succeed. One of my fellow SEI’ers gave me some wisdom that his grandfather has imparted on him: “That feeling you get in the pit of your stomach when you’re scared? That’s growth.” What SEI has taught me that is that you don’t have to grow alone. An individual’s success is every SEI’s consultant success. Peer accountability doesn’t always have to be about “calling someone out”; it can be about holding each other accountable to be their best.

The DAMA presentation went great. All my worries and anxiousness were mitigated by how well prepared I felt, thanks to my peer. The experience helped me grow both personally and professionally. Most importantly, when I looked out from the stage to the audience, and I saw a large contingent of my SEI colleagues in attendance to support me, I knew I had found the right group of peers to hold me accountable. Have you found yours?

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