Four Agreements Can Improve Everything at Your Firm

This article (albeit quite edited) appeared in Accounting Web on April 14, 2014.  I want to post the full version of the article here on my blog.  Happy reading and feel free to comment and share your thoughts.  This is powerful stuff.

The Four Agreements is a very effective way to address – and improve – efficiency, productivity, profitability and morale in the workplace by creating a heightened sense of awareness around all that we do. By harnessing methods of professional coaching while applying the four agreements, you can assist your professionals to adopt and integrate the concepts, which address clearer communication and conflict resolution – this can effectively impact many areas that can ultimately positively impact your bottom line.

The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom was published in 1997. Written by Don Miguel Ruiz, a Toltec Indian, the book is widely considered to be a spiritual book; however, the concept around the four agreements has been successfully applied to corporate America for many years. These four agreements might seem very simple at first, but can prove quite challenging in their application in everyday life. This article will explore how these four agreements might specifically be applied at a professional services firm to fuel efforts around efficiency, improved client experience and growth.

BKR International is a leading association of over 150 independent accounting and business advisory firms throughout the world whose members are chosen for their local influence, expertise and international capability. BKR International’s Marketing Committee represents some of the most resourceful professionals in the accounting profession, many of whom have figured out innovative ways to accomplish their goals around growth and visibility. Lisa Tierney, a certified life strategies coach and seasoned consultant to the accounting profession, recently facilitated a thought-provocative presentation around how these eye-opening four agreements might be applied in a meaningful way at their firm. Let’s start by taking a look at the four agreements:

1. Be impeccable with your word

2. Don’t take anything personally

3. Don’t make assumptions

4. Always do your best

Generally speaking, the agreements are meant to work together and there is overlap of the concepts which address two main areas: clearer communication and conflict resolution. The word “impeccable” means without sin and encourages us to avoid criticism of self and others; not taking things personally is about the realization of others’ personal agendas which often influence behavior or demeanor, releasing you of responsibility over their actions; giving up assumptions is a humbling exercise in asking more questions and also in repetition of instruction for clarification; lastly, if you are convinced that you have done your best consistently, then the first three are easier to sustain.

Suggested Applications of the Four Agreements
for the Accounting Professional

1. Speaking with Impeccable Truth

• Listen carefully at the next meeting you attend among your professionals. How much that is spoken speaks impeccably? How much interaction is really necessary and addresses the topic/s at hand? Are you using agendas that respect the time of your attendees? Are jokes or informal conversation done in a way that meets everyone’s comfort zone? Is everyone engaged and are questions being asked?

• The Truth, the Whole Truth and Nothing but the Truth – Look at your brochures and your firm website. Read your latest newsletter and review some of your professional profiles that you use on LinkedIn or in your proposals. Are they an honest, complete depiction of your professional service providers? Are you effectively communicating enough about the client experience that your target audience can truly expect? Irene Valverde, Director of Marketing at Gumbiner Savett Inc, in Santa Monica, CA offers, “I am focused on “speaking with impeccable truth” as I update our website and brochure, in order to really make our company culture and personality come through in the content.”

2. Never Take it Personally

• If you were to hear “Can I see you in my office?” would you cringe? If you were to ask a subordinate that question, would they feel nervous or pleasantly waltz over to see you with a smile on their face?

• If someone exhibits what could be interpreted as negative or inappropriate behavior (that makes others feel uncomfortable) can this be stated in an observational way as a mirror to the person in question: “It seems to me that you’re feeling agitated this morning.” Simply mirroring what you perceive can provide the objective feedback that helps someone to “snap out of it” or open up a helpful discussion about their feelings.

• Do you ask for – and diligently obtain – client feedback on a regular basis?

3. Don’t Assume

• If you are in a conversation with a prospect or referral source and you feel lost because they are using unfamiliar initials to address an organization or a term that is industry “lingo” and unknown to you, what do you do? What about the general over-use of pronouns? “He,” “They”, etc. Are you confident in asking “What do you mean by that?” One way to say ‘I don’t know’ with confidence is “Tell me more…”

• Read your latest proposal from the perspective of the buyer – would they really want to hear about your firm first – or what you are proposing to do for them?

• Do you clarify well-formed expectations of all you do? Are you completely sure that you are aware of – and are currently meeting – all of your client’s needs? Have you asked them lately?

4. Always Do Your Best

• How do you define and sustain your best “at work”? Do you step back objectively and honestly evaluate your contribution to the firm? (Is the bi-annual review often enough to do so?) Consider writing up a report of your effectiveness once or twice a month – you can share this with your colleagues or keep it yourself.

• Keep in mind that your best will vary from day to day – even from hour to hour. Try to stay aware of when it “feels” best to perform certain tasks that are required of you; sometimes it might be better to ask “Can I get back to you on that?” Fight the urge to react throughout the day – to e-mails, phone calls, questions. Give yourself permission to close your door or take a walk to recharge your batteries during the workday.

More Tips for Sharing the Four Agreements

Sidebar: “As we strive to move ahead in our careers without sacrificing our personal lives, following the Four Agreements is a perfect way to accomplish both, because you are able to apply the Four Agreements in all situations of life”, says Irene Valverde, Director of Marketing at Gumbiner Savett Inc. in Santa Monica, CA.

The four agreements are most effective when professionals are coached through integration of the concepts (rather than just a one-time presentation); after all, like everything, practice makes perfect. Jolene Colant, Director of marketing at Hall, Kistler & Company LLP in Canton, OH, coaches her accounting professionals on a regular basis. “One of the challenges I encountered is pushback to the coaching program as a whole. Accountability regarding client relationships and growing the practice can be intimidating, but in this modern day and age of accounting, if you are not marketing yourself and your firm, you will eventually fade away. The Four Agreements offers a strategy that I can apply so as not to take resistance to the coaching process personally. Once I cleared that hurdle, I could objectively offer suggestions that fit their personalities and goals.”

Just think what it would mean to your firm for your professionals to commit just one of these agreements? Tips for sharing the concept of the four agreements are creating a book club, offering copies of the book to be read and then discussed over lunch; conducting an in-house seminar or webinar; hosting a mini-series or quarterly workshops around each agreement; incorporating a buddy system for the agreements to be witnessed by colleagues; a facilitated, interactive workshop can be a great way to introduce the concept – especially during a partners retreat.

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