The Cure for Leaky Accountability

By Liz McBride

(The doctor is in... for the third time).

I’m struggling through a healthy mound of salad when Nicole appears: “The CEO of Underda Buss Healthcare Systems needs to speak with you. She says her dashboard is broken.” I follow her into the control room and the CEO is on the screen. 

“Hi there! Your dashboard is broken?”dashboard-book

“Must be. All dashboards have been green all quarter but our priorities weren’t met. Clearly, they’re not set up correctly. Doctor, can you correct these before the next quarter?”

“May I pay your company a visit to diagnose the problem?”

“Um...sure, but, can’t you just login and fix the dashboard?”

“I’d like to get to the root cause of….malfunctioning dashboard first and observe the team.”

“Sounds good, how about…” Nicole hits the transporter button.

When I arrive on the executive floor of Underda Buss, it’s as though I can sense the fear. I spend the day interviewing the team and hear things like: 

“The last time someone admitted their priority was red, it wasn’t pretty. I’m just flying under the radar.”

“I have a hard time reading her mind. I think I’m doing all of the right things and then she corrects me, sends me off in another direction, chasing new rabbits. It’s exhausting.”

“There are three of us who are consistently going above and beyond. The others are just floating along, undetected with little consequences.”

“To be honest, I’m not feeling excited anymore. I’m just trying to keep my head from being chopped.”


At the end of the day, I meet with the CEO.

“Doctor, do you have enough information to fix the dashboards?”

“I sure do, only, the diagnosis is not in the dashboard itself. Your company is suffering from Leaky Accountability.”

“Leaky - how do you know?”

“Well, the signs of Leaky Accountability are:

  • Lack of vision
  • Missed deadlines
  • Poor performance
  • Poor execution 

“Side effects from Leaky Accountability are:

  • Heart palpitations from priorities driven by fear rather than inspiration
  • Restless leg syndrome from chasing down tasks without seeing the greater picture
  • Sleepwalking through the day to do the bare minimum knowing others will pick up the slack
  • Pain and stiffness from covering one’s own tail rather than helping each other succeed.”


The CEO exhales and says: “Leaky anything sounds awful. How can I fix this?”


Here’s the 8-step prescription to drive accountability in your organization:

  1. Share your vision - Before you hold your team accountable for anything, they must first feel inspired. Inspiration comes from a greater sense of meaning and purpose in one's work. Get your team to rally behind your company’s Core Purpose and BHAG. Everyday, these should be top of mind to your team.
  2. Put down the stick - Ruling with a stick may get the job done, but it doesn’t equate to employee satisfaction and fulfillment. Create a culture that allows for failure and encourages individuals to fail fast and make adjustments. Allowing for failure empowers people to stretch themselves, yielding bigger and better results. Your team will thank you as people’s brains are wired to experience euphoria when stretch goals are reached. Start by focusing on the positive side of risk. Help your team envision progress and success rather than always pulling them down into your web of worry.
  3. Retool the radar - Those who work in accountable organizations know there’s no such thing as being able to hide under the radar. Encourage each team member to create and verbally share his or her individual priorities that support the company’s goals. Doing so will remove any confusion on roles. Define clear success criteria for each priority to take out the guess work.
  4. Heart yellow and red - In order to cultivate your culture, integrity should always be rewarded. Encourage yellow and red statuses. It’s better to learn quickly if things are off track so you’re not blind-sided. The point here is not finger pointing to the person whose status is yellow or red, but to work as a team on how to get the priority back to green.
  5. Make it a team sport - Accountability starts to take root when it moves from only leaders holding their direct reports accountable to peers holding peers to the same standards. Demonstrate what accountability looks like by leading weekly adjustment meetings in a way that it doesn’t turn into a blame game. Rather, celebrate the collective teams’ greens and super greens and encourage brainstorming towards getting yellow and red priorities back on track.
  6. Get personal - Take time for you and your team to know your motives, desires, and personalities. Have your team connect these to what they enjoy contributing on a day-to-day basis to accomplish the longer term, inspiring goals.  
  7. Discuss, debate and agree - When the team is out of alignment on goals, it cultivates dissatisfaction and fear. Discuss, debate and agree all priorities as a team in order to establish full alignment on expectations and what success really looks like.
  8. Grow new crops – Here’s the good news: if you’ve already hired the right team, they’ll get behind the vision and purpose when you lay it out. Once clarity is achieved, A-Players naturally hold themselves and those around them accountable. To keep the cycle going, hire future A-Players by validating their alignment with your purpose and values.

“What this prescription gives you is an environment of accountability, which will begin to thrive. Until you share your vision and drive out fear, you’ll continue to get great work from only a select few. I recommend we start with revisiting your Core Purpose and BHAG. I’ll be back tomorrow and we’ll get started.”

“Sounds great, doc…”

I’m transported back to Rhythm Headquarters where I dump my limp salad and go on a quest for carbs and chocolate. I will stretch myself, fail fast and make an adjustment tomorrow.

I’m not a doctor, but play one in this blog. For further diagnoses, check out my other prescriptions for KPI-tice or Execution Indigestion.

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Liz McBride


Photo Credit: iStock by Getty Images