WAILEA, HAWAII — "If you had to identify, in one word, the reason why the human race has not achieved, and never will achieve, its full potential," humorist Dave Barry wrote, "that word would be 'meetings.'"

That could be because there's lots of talking in meetings and not much hearing, a problem Mike Scott aimed to teach contractors to over-come. Scott, from the productivity consulting firm of Mike Scott & Associates, Tampa, Fla., spoke March 20-21 at the Mechanical Contractors Association of America convention here on how to create an environment that is 100% accountable, 100% of the time.

Scott's key point is that miscommunication within a contracting firm is a given. He told MCAA members that 50% of what is said is either not heard, forgotten, misstated, misinterpreted or misunderstood. If contractors understand that, they can find ways to work around the problem.

Accountability, he said, is doing what you said you would do, as you said you would do it and when you said you would do it. Contractors should model the behavior they want from their employees.

"Stop giving excuses, beginning today," he said.

Scott has developed a common-sense system to eliminate misunderstanding, excuses and unpleasant surprises. He said he believes in meetings — weekly staff meetings, weekly one-onone meetings and daily huddles to cover the most urgent tasks.

The manager running the meetings keeps the Master To Do List, as Scott has dubbed it, and the employees have their own To Do Lists. Scott said he is looking for consistency, which is why he's big on forms and lists for recording, tracking and prioritizing the tasks that must get done.

Every meeting must have an agenda with an Action Plan template on the back where the employees write down what they have committed to do. In line with Scott's point that half of all communication is lost, before the meeting ends, the attendees have to read back the actions they have committed to take.

Contractors can't allow surprises. As soon as an employee knows that he is going to have a problem getting a job done, he must let the boss know.

Scott told MCAA members to create a Master To Do List. It's one place to keep all tasks. It stops forgetting. It creates immediate organization and prioritization. It creates a company-wide terminology of prioritization. And it allows for effective weekly meetings.

The list should contain seven columns. The first is whether the task is business or personal. The second should be the priority of must do, need to do or want to do. (Must do is any task that has a deadline while need to do is important but may have a flexible deadline or no deadline.)

The three middle columns should list if a job is delegated, what the activity is, and either the time to complete or dollar value of the task. Finally, the last two columns should list the day or date to complete and the person to whom the job is delegated.

A Master To Do List such as this can be set up on any common office software program, Scott said, such as Microsoft Excel or Outlook, Apple Entourage, Lotus Notes, Goldmine or ACT!

Part of this process toward total accountability is letting employees say no to some tasks, but they can only do so if they come up with a an alternative solution, Scott said. The solution often should be some way that they will get it done anyway.

It may be a change in the date or time, or maybe a list of tasks can get reprioritized, but Scott said that type of no, along with suggested solutions, is much better than what he calls a "dirty yes." If someone doesn't do what he says he will do, it leads to loss of trust.

Even if employees read back their appointed tasks before a meeting ends, they may not get them done. Scott taught the contractors how to deal with non-performance.

In his 1967 best seller, "I'm OK, You're OK," Thomas Harris noted that people can relate to each other as adult to adult or as parent to child. Scott pointed out that as soon as management gets parental, the employees become childish. If a job isn't done, don't ever ask "why" or "why not," Scott said, because the employee's next statement will be an excuse.

Scott gave the contractors a script to keep the conversation adult to adult. The boss should ask, "What's the next step toward getting the job done?" After getting an appropriate response (not something such as, "Somebody else can do it"), the next question, should be, "When will you do this?" After getting an appropriate response with a specific date and time, the manager should say, "Can I count on you for this?" The employee should agree.

Sometimes a contractor will get an employee to admit that he has a real problem with a task, but the boss should insist — every time — that the employee also come up with solutions.

A contractor should never let an employee say, "I'll do my best," Scott said, "because that is accepting an excuse for not getting the job done right up front." Instead, the boss should say, "I know you always do your best, but can I count on you for the result?"

Don't stop pushing for results, Scott said, until the employee agrees that he'll get the job done.