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Make Accountability Matter Again: Say:Do Ratio

Uncategorized Nov 22, 2020

Nell Derick Debevoise | Forbes Senior Contributor


Jes Averhart is a leadership expert and host of the Reinvention Road Trip Podcast and Virtual Summit. We talked about one of her foundational concepts for successful leadership in any role: the Say:Do ratio.

Nell Derick Debevoise: What is the Say:Do ratio?

Jes Averhart: It's simple. Do you do what you say you’re going to do? The Say:Do Ratio serves as a guide to an honest answer. We allude to it all the time in expressions like, “Talk is cheap,” “I'll believe it when I see it!” Or “All talk, no action.”

Trust of other people is at an all-time low in the US.


The minute someone says something and doesn't do it, it can set off a negative chain reaction among the people on the other side of the deal. The Say:Do ratio is a useful expression and North Star for accountability. Once you know the term, you’ll see how easily it can influence your work and relationships.

Ultimately, this is about trust. The higher the Say:Do ratio, the greater the trust between two people. A high ratio sets the conditions for increased credibility and authenticity, which facilitate efficient collaboration. On the flip side, if your Say:Do ratio decreases, you lose credibility and even attract suspicion. People with low ratios often create conspiracy theories or otherwise abdicate responsibility for not doing what they said they were going to do. Readers probably aren’t surprised that trust is at an all-time low, globally and in the US - spanning across our government and between one another. 

Trust in the federal government, is also at near historic low.


So it’s important to be conscious of what you say and its effect on the people you say it to. With my teams and clients, I share my commitment to a high – not perfect – Say:Do ratio. I explain that I'm going to commit to these things, and if I feel at any point I'm not going to be able to make it happen, I’ll adjust expectations. This simple communication can reset the ‘contract’ and help your ratio remain high. Maintaining alignment with people’s expectations is the key.

 Derick Debevoise: What’s the history of the Say:Do ratio?

Averhart: The idea is out there, but I came across it just a few years ago. I was talking with a Human Resources executive at General Electric about corporate culture. She was referring to this idea that relationships should be One-to-One in terms of what people say and whether and how they follow up on that. That description was so clear to me. The Say:Do ratio is an easy metric that we can all measure ourselves against.

 Derick Debevoise: In the age of overwork, how do you maintain a reasonable Say:Do ratio and not burn out?

Averhart: Ahh, yes, burn out. First stop saying “yes” to everything for that momentary high of ‘self-gratification’. That “yes” will come back to haunt you if you can’t follow through the way you promised.

For example, I’m a people pleaser. I’ve known that since middle school. In high school I was named “best personality,” “most school spirit,” “most likely to succeed” – superlatives that amplify my people-pleasing nature. While, this part of my character has allowed some professional advantages, it’s also created a lot of stress and anxiety over the years to meet other people’s expectations. In an effort not to disappoint, I try to take stock in my ability to follow through and do my best to say “no” when needed to keep my Say:Do ratio manageable. 

Now, in addition to burnout, the risk of continually operating with a low Say:Do ratio can be financially and emotionally catastrophic. Think about it, would you want to do business with someone who never follows through or strings you along with a series of unfilled promises? No. Bottomline, a low Say:Do ratio, no matter your intention, can negatively impact your relationships and opportunities; and you may never know it. 

Ultimately, it’s about accountability to yourself. If personal accountability isn’t a value that you hold close, then you can stop reading the article – because at the end of the day, that’s what this is about.

Derick Debevoise: OK, so what about other people’s Say:Do ratio? Can I care about that?

Averhart: You can care about it, but you shouldn’t hold your breath because you can’t control it. We can only hope that we’re in relationship with people who have a similar ratio. Whereas, with strangers or acquaintances, we really can’t have those expectations. We’re all imperfect and hold different core values close. We’re not going to know if another person shares our sense of Say:Do until it’s tested. 

So, again, here’s my approach to tipping the scales a little. I verbally share my commitment to the Say:Do ratio. And it’s become a norm. Friends and colleagues will say it back to me; as part of our common vernacular. So, while we can’t control other people’s behavior, we can influence the space in which we move by sharing our values and giving people a chance to respond accordingly. On the other hand, if we don't take the opportunity to express our values, we give up the right to expect people to fully understand their impact on the relationship.

The Say:Do ratio…adopting this small idea can take your leadership to the next level - put it out there and allow people to step up.

Put out the values that matter to you to give people around you the chance to step up.

Put out the values that matter to you to give people around you the chance to step up.



Derick Debevoise: Do people ever disagree on their Say:Do ratio, in other words, I might think I’ve done something I said I was going to, but it didn’t meet your expectations?

Averhart: Shelly Bell, Founder and CEO of Black Girl Ventures, says, “We don't finish our thoughts. We leave so much up for interpretation.” To answer your question, it comes down to communication and building alignment around what’s agreed. Let’s use the example of a trust fall as a very high-stakes example of Say:Do. I’m going to fall back, and the person behind me says they're going to catch me. Of course, I hope they do because it's going to leave all kinds of problems for both of us if they don't.

But, what happens if that communication breaks down? Maybe they heard me say I was going to fall on 3. But I didn't say that, I just went ahead and fell before they were ready. That's a simple example of a moment where you set an expectation, however formal, of something you say you’re going to do. Both parties need to take the time to explain themselves fully and make sure the other understands. If we're clear in how we engage with one another, then we clear up assumptions and minimize the risk of expectations not being met.


Derick Debevoise: What's the incentive to maintain a high Say:Do ratio?

Averhart: I think two important carrots are feeling aligned with your to-dos, and building strong, lasting relationships.

A fully aligned Say:Do ratio creates increased margin in your life. You’ll likely find that you’re in agreement with yourself when you’re able to say “no” or “yes” based on an intentional and thoughtful choice versus an emotional and impulsive one.

The Say:Do ratio also keeps relationships in a good rhythm and reduces tensions. We don't have to hide from people! I’m sure you can give example after example of when you didn't call somebody or follow up on something. That lack of follow-through can turn into shame – which is where we need to be careful.


Derick Debevoise: How do you actually implement this in your daily life?

Averhart: From a practical standpoint, I have a little notebook that I keep close to scribble my daily notes and commitments. I use an online project management tool and write personal deadlines in my calendar. 

The big tip though is… I apologize! Recently, I didn't get something out to my team when I said I would. I told the team, “You know I hold my Say-Do in high regard and I didn’t get this out when I said I was going to.” Again, walk the talk.


Click here to learn more from Jes about Say:Do here. Or request our “21 Days to Reinvention” Action Plan and ticket to the free Reinvention Road Trip Summit in January!

Follow me on Twitter or LinkedIn. Check out my website

Nell Derick Debevoise

I am the Founder and CEO of Inspiring Capital, a certified B Corp. We believe purpose is universal, action-oriented, and performance-enhancing. Email me for a free



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