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.