Russell Bishop Blog

# 15 The Cycle of Completion: Are you accomplishing what really matters?

Awareness, Choice, Response-Ability and Accountability are the fundamental elements required to produce more of what you truly want out of life. We have talked a bit about how these elements interact in concert with identified purpose, goals and outcomes, but so far we have focused primarily on nuances of each element. Next we want to explore what it takes to complete something and how these pieces begin to fit together.

In order to do so, we want to introduce something we call the Cycle of Completion. As the name implies, there are a series of steps involved in moving something from the early idea stage, into implementation, and across the finish line. The notion of cycle also implies something that is circular and, with a bit of a stretch in thinking, you might even get to the old metaphor of chicken and egg.

As we explore the Cycle of Completion, we will be examining how these core elements of Choice, Awareness, Response-Ability and Accountability work together in order to produce an outcome and how they often must work iteratively to account for changes and unforeseen consequences.

First of all, let’s take a look at the cycle itself:


Start: what an obvious place to, well, start! However, how do we get started in the first place? It probably makes sense by now that Desire Outcome is a critical component. Once again, “if you don’t know where you are going, any road will do” comes to mind; what is probably not so obvious, is that if you don’t have at least some idea in mind of where you are heading, then you probably won’t be able to “start” heading in that direction.

So, how does this work in real life? Let’s imagine that you are part of a team at work, and your job is to get something done, something that is part of a larger project, or it could be a stand alone mini-project, or it could be a great, big important one. It doesn’t really matter – you could be a player on the team, the leader of the team, or a team of one. You could even pick one of your “objectives” that is part of your annual performance review. All that matters is that you pick something specific and use it as your focus here.

For my purposes as the one doing the writing, I am going to work with the assumption that you are part of a team and that you have been assigned a piece of the project to see through to completion. I’m also going to assume that this project is somewhat complex and will take anywhere from a few weeks to a few months to finish.

For the moment, I am going to assume that the communication process was efficient and effective and everyone on the team knows where you are heading. We will come back to this one later in much more detail – we all know that communication is rarely efficient or effective!

So, you have some idea what you are supposed to produce and you need to get started. In order to start, you may need to consider different options on how to proceed? If this were a manufacturing scenario, you might have choices about outsourcing to a regularly used third party, in-sourcing to your own manufacturing group, qualifying a new supplier, adapting something that is already available on the market, etc. So how do you decide?

Let’s pretend that the larger team has assembled to discuss this question and a decision needs to be made. Remember Decide? Here we go again. Assuming a typical management scenario, the team is likely to explore the options with an eye toward determining the “best” option. Again, this process is likely to focus on what is wrong with an option, more than it is likely to focus on what works about the option and how well prepared we are to execute the option.

So, assuming the team or leader has “decided” on the best option, your job is to get your piece of it done. It could be that the team meeting even gets into the details of who is going to do what, when are they going to do it, and all kinds of details focusing on specific actions to be taken.

And now it is your turn to get started. So, you get started. Now for some people, this is the hard part – there is always something else that pops up that seems to require more attention than actually getting started. People often refer to this delay in getting started as “procrastination.” We will return to procrastination later and actually offer a counter-intuitive definition, one that turns procrastination into a highly desirable choice rather than the villainous one it often appears to be.

D0: Doing refers to all the little and not so little actions you must take in order to get something across the finish line. You work diligently on all the required actions. As the chain of actions unfolds and you get closer to the finish line, for some people, things begin to slow down.

Finish: For some, there is a form of resistance to finishing. The perfectionist will see all kinds of ways the project could be improved or some element could be better, and so take more time in order to get things “right.” Sound familiar? I’m sure we have all worked with the perfectionist who can always find an “improvement,” even it means the whole project is delayed. In some technology companies, this tendency has a name, “creeping elegance.” Creeping elegance is behind many cost overruns, project delays and over-engineered products. More on this later.

People besides perfectionists can delay projects as well. One form of delay comes from those who unconsciously fear completion. Some don’t want to let go of the project because they have become attached to it, and can’t imagine life without it. However, a much more common form of delay comes from those who fear the criticism that could arise once the project is finished.

I blame spelling tests for this phenomenon. You remember spelling tests, don’t you? Let’s imagine a spelling test with 50 words on it. You spelled 44 correctly. How many did you miss? No, this is not a trick question. Six, right?

Now, is 44 out of 50 pretty good? Depends on your point of view, doesn’t it? As a percentage, what is 44 out of 50? 88%, right? As a grade, what is 88%? Depends on your school. At least a “B” Maybe even “B+” or “A-“ – in some schools these days, it is probably an “A+” or even better! The point is, 44 out of 50 isn’t bad.

And what did the paper say on top when you got it back? If you are like most people, it read minus 6 and in red ink. How encouraging is -6? Really motivating, isn’t it? How do you build on -6? Some how -5 doesn’t seem like improvement, whereas +45 feels a lot better. They are both the same data point, yet one is a deficit way of thinking and the other is more positive – kind of like the old half-empty, half-full argument.

And how many years did you go to school? How much -6 did you get in your life? Do you know anyone who hasn’t had enough criticism already?

So if you had your fill of -6 growing up, it might get in the way of finishing on time. Why? Because once something is finished and turned in, it now becomes a possible target for more criticism, for more deficit thinking.

Going back to the Cycle of Completion,


Acknowledge: We are now across the finish line and what comes next is acknowledgement. I like to think of “acknowledge” as another of those funny word games. It is made up of two words in this game: “act” and “knowledge.”

What, then, is the purpose of acknowledgment? For most people, it means something like praise, gratitude, recognition, etc. In this construct, it means “knowledge of how to act.”

How would “knowledge of how to act” show up? What would the process of acknowledgement look like? How would it be framed or delivered?

Acknowledgement in this model is delivered as a form of “Review.” But what does “review” mean? Another game with the word and its component parts. The root word is “view” which means to look at. The prefix, “re-“ means again.

So, what is it that we should be “looking at again?” Obviously, it would be something we already looked at. And what would that be? In order to answer that question, we need to look at the Cycle of Completion again, and add in a few missing pieces.

If we return to the top, and examine “Start” a bit more closely, we will find ourselves back in the discussion about objectives and decisions before starting.

Besides noticing how ugly the diagram now looks (I need better graphics help!), you will notice that I added more text between “Start” and “Do.” These are what I consider to be the requisite steps before beginning any project, many of which are frequently overlooked.


Purpose: why are we doing this in the first place?

Outcome: what would it look like if we successfully achieved out purpose?

Choose: what kinds of things might you be able to do to fulfill Purpose and Outcome? Pick one.

Goals: what are the specific targets or measurable results we expect to see at the Finish?

Objectives: what are the deliverables or sub-elements of the Goals?

Operating Plan: how will we go about achieving the Purpose, Outcome and Goals?

Next Actions: what is the very next action step I need to Do?

With these additional elements in mind, what do you think should be the object of review? What do most management teams review? Goals and objectives seem to be the logical response from most managers, yet goals and objectives have been achieved all over the place while purpose and outcome have come up short over and over again.

It’s kind of the old story about winning the battle but losing the war. Who cares if you hit a goal or objective but fail to fulfill the purpose. We see this in manufacturing organizations all the time. A sales organization, and, by extension, individual sales professionals, are given revenue goals with mid-term monthly and quarter targets, all of which are taken into account in terms of awarding bonuses and other incentives.

More than one organization has given out huge sales bonuses while the business unit records a substantial loss for the same period. How is that possible? From an organizational point of view, would you care more about how many sales were made or about how profitable those sales were. For most people, profitability is more important (Purpose) and yet gross sales (Goals and Objectives) get most of the attention.

Think about his difference when applied to your job? Is accomplishing the specific task the key to success, or is it more important that the whole endeavor succeed?

In this over-simplified example, the Review should be focused on at least two elements: Purpose and Goals or Objectives. We counsel looking first to see if the Purpose has been achieved and second at the Goal or Objective. If you can build in a mid-term Review process, it is possible to keep one eye on the Purpose while executing on the Plan, to make certain that the goals and objectives still make sense.

One Purpose of the Review process is to maintain balance and integration between Purpose and Outcome with Goals and Objectives.

There is another Purpose to the Review process: how to keep people motivated and energized.

More on this subject in the next section.

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