We’ve finally arrived at the last step in the “Seven Keys to Cre­at­ing a Data-Driven Orga­ni­za­tion” — hold­ing peo­ple account­able. Dur­ing the course of this arti­cle series, I have cov­ered the impor­tance of hav­ing an exec­u­tive spon­sor, a clear mea­sure­ment strat­egy, ade­quate staffing and train­ing, cor­po­rate stan­dards, momentum-building quick wins, and proper data val­i­da­tion. Account­abil­ity is not the last step in cre­at­ing a data-driven orga­ni­za­tion because it is the least impor­tant. I view hold­ing peo­ple account­able as the final cherry on top of your deli­cious, data-driven organization.

Account­abil­ity is defined as “an oblig­a­tion or will­ing­ness to accept respon­si­bil­ity or to account for one’s actions.” In recent years, we’ve seen an unset­tling trend of low account­abil­ity in busi­ness, finance, media, gov­ern­ment, edu­ca­tion, sports, enter­tain­ment, etc. Sev­eral com­pa­nies have also suf­fered from a lack of account­abil­ity in man­ag­ing their online prop­er­ties — even when they have had web ana­lyt­ics tools in place.

Online account­abil­ity doesn’t just hap­pen on its own. You can’t sim­ply plug in an ana­lyt­ics solu­tion like Site­Cat­a­lyst or Insight and expect your employ­ees to be more account­able. Know­ing that the last online mar­ket­ing cam­paign was a com­plete fail­ure hasn’t stopped many teams from repeat­ing the same mis­takes — over and over. With­out lead­er­ship sup­port and an effec­tive stick or car­rot, web met­rics can be ignored or over­looked. A “data-driven” orga­ni­za­tion with­out account­abil­ity is really just a data-informed orga­ni­za­tion - one that con­sumes a fair amount of data and reports but isn’t moti­vated to act on the data. An account­abil­ity com­po­nent is needed to for­mally weave a data-driven men­tal­ity into the fab­ric of your entire organization.

How to instill account­abil­ity in your organization

As I was research­ing for this arti­cle, I came across a great arti­cle by Lee Froschheiser on pur­su­ing account­abil­ity within the work­place. He pro­vided a use­ful check­list for cre­at­ing account­abil­ity, which I’ve mod­i­fied slightly for data-driven online organizations:

  1. Estab­lish clear online goals and expec­ta­tions. Always set stan­dards for per­for­mance, and put poli­cies and pro­ce­dures in place.
  2. Make sure you’ve got account­abil­ity lead­ers within the orga­ni­za­tion. These will be those man­agers who chal­lenge the drive and per­for­mance of other employ­ees and mea­sure the results.
  3. Fos­ter an orga­ni­za­tion of can­dor. Trans­par­ent, hon­est com­mu­ni­ca­tions enable peo­ple to pro­vide feed­back about their per­for­mance and limit the oppor­tu­nity to hedge around an issue.
  4. Develop and imple­ment a follow-up sys­tem of account­abil­ity, which allows for reg­u­lar meet­ings that mea­sure and track per­for­mance, pro­duc­tiv­ity, and results.
  5. Focus on Key Per­for­mance Indi­ca­tors (KPIs) instead of the triv­ial met­rics when set­ting com­pany goals. Do the same for indi­vid­ual goals, those set by each employee.
  6. Put the proper rewards and recog­ni­tion in place. Tie employee com­pen­sa­tion to tar­gets based on web KPIs. In addi­tion, remem­ber recog­ni­tion doesn’t always have to be mon­e­tary in nature. Ver­bal praise, both in the pri­vate and pub­lic set­ting, is highly appre­ci­ated and moti­vat­ing. A sin­cere “thank you” can also go a long way.
  7. Define own­er­ship (stew­ard­ship) of each new process and pro­ce­dure you establish.
  8. Develop the lead­er­ship pipeline. Account­abil­ity starts at the top of the orga­ni­za­tion and works itself down. CEOs and man­agers must strive to per­fect their own lead­er­ship skills and account­abil­ity before expect­ing oth­ers within the orga­ni­za­tion to do the same. Lead by example.

I think Froschheiser’s last point is crit­i­cal. Account­abil­ity doesn’t start with the front­line employ­ees who are tasked with man­ag­ing the var­i­ous online cam­paigns and web­sites. It starts at the top with the CEO or CMO hold­ing his or her senior man­age­ment team account­able for web KPIs. It trick­les or flows down from there.

Account­abil­ity in practice

As a con­sul­tant work­ing with var­i­ous com­pa­nies over the years, I’ve found that one of the key account­abil­ity areas where “the rub­ber meets the road” is in tying employee com­pen­sa­tion (e.g., quarterly/semi-annual/annual bonus) to web met­rics. Vari­able pay tied to online KPIs can be an effec­tive man­age­ment tool in chang­ing behav­ior and align­ing indi­vid­u­als with team, depart­ment, and com­pany goals. Are web met­rics an impor­tant part of your bonus? Does being held to the KPI-based tar­gets pos­i­tively influ­ence your behav­ior (assum­ing they are rea­son­able)? Hope­fully, the answers are yes and yes.

It doesn’t just have to be about money. There are a num­ber of alter­na­tive incen­tives based on tying employee and team per­for­mance to online KPIs:

  • High-performing indi­vid­u­als and teams are rec­og­nized in depart­ment meetings
  • Hit­ting cer­tain goals leads to an oppor­tu­nity to show­case their suc­cess to the CMO or CEO
  • Achiev­ing goals leads to lunch with your department’s top executive
  • Reach­ing goals leads to depart­ment party/activity or extra days of vacation
  • Meet­ing goals leads to an oppor­tu­nity to go to a user con­fer­ence for training

There are lim­it­less pos­si­bil­i­ties for reward­ing and rec­og­niz­ing indi­vid­ual and team efforts to drive greater account­abil­ity. I’d be curi­ous to know what forms of reward and recog­ni­tion have been effec­tive at your com­pany. No two com­pa­nies are iden­ti­cal in terms of cor­po­rate cul­ture, man­age­ment approach, busi­ness model, etc. There­fore, the key is to iden­tify what works for your employ­ees and orga­ni­za­tion, and use appro­pri­ate pro­grams to rein­force a data-driven cul­ture at your company.

Account­able for more than just KPI-based goals

Online account­abil­ity extends beyond just inject­ing web KPIs into your cur­rent com­pen­sa­tion and lead­er­ship approach. Hold­ing peo­ple account­able in a data-driven orga­ni­za­tion means that peo­ple are not only held to achiev­ing goals based on web KPIs, but they are also account­able for other data-driven aspects such as train­ing and cor­po­rate standards.

By estab­lish­ing train­ing goals for key stake­holder groups within your orga­ni­za­tion, account­abil­ity can play a key role in fuel­ing user adop­tion. In addi­tion, account­abil­ity con­sid­er­a­tions should be expanded to your busi­ness part­ners. For exam­ple, ad agen­cies should be expected to adhere to estab­lished cor­po­rate stan­dards to ensure accu­rate tag­ging and report­ing. A beau­ti­fully designed web­site with poor or no tag­ging is unac­cept­able for data-driven organizations.

As a final thought on account­abil­ity, some low-performing peo­ple and orga­ni­za­tions may strug­gle with being held account­able. I like what HP CEO, Mark Hurd said, “The more account­able I can make you, the eas­ier it is for you to show you’re a great per­former.” High-performing indi­vid­u­als, teams, and com­pa­nies aren’t afraid of account­abil­ity. We need more fear­less, data-driven orga­ni­za­tions. More than just a final cherry on top, greater account­abil­ity within an orga­ni­za­tion will prove to be a linch­pin to becom­ing more data-driven — and ulti­mately more suc­cess­ful as indi­vid­u­als and as a company.


Great post Brent. For the record I love your metaphors.

Brent Dykes
Brent Dykes

Evan, I'll admit I'm a bit of a metaphor junkie. :) Hopefully, my metaphors have been helpful and not as nonsensical as Dr. Phil's (e.g., "Tryin’ to lose weight when you’re going through a divorce is like tryin’ to teach a duck to speak Spanish in a Canadian hospital. I mean c’mon, people!”)

Evan LaPointe
Evan LaPointe

Great post! This blog -- as a whole -- uses more metaphors than Dr. Phil.

Brent Dykes
Brent Dykes

Thanks Zach. As you've shown accountability is a critical component to becoming data-driven. If people are resistant to being held accountable, then no meaningful action will occur despite your company’s investment in tools, people, training, etc. You don’t necessarily want to embarrass people through the data as that approach will just lead to resentment and animosity towards analytics – not user adoption. I feel the key is to get management buy-in for increasing the accountability within your organization, which may not be something that can be achieved overnight but rather something that you build momentum for – quick win by quick win or “little by little” as you said. I’d also encourage you to work with your executive sponsor to see how greater online accountability can be encouraged at your company.


Great post, Brent. One thing I've been pushing for is a product classification for the buyer. This way I could measure how products purchased by one of our buyers perform, comparatively. It's somewhat understandable that I've been met with stiff resistance =). This really is the key; I sit on mountains of data and intelligence, but it's very difficult to convince our company to act on it. Still, we're getting better, little by little.