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The world has changed dramatically in a short period of time – how we conduct business has changed, what makes companies successful has changed, and how and where we work has changed. That’s why top-down management, vertical departmental silos, and the old accountability structures no longer work for business. They don’t work for employees either.

Distributed Accountability is essential for 21st-century companies and organizations of all types and sizes to succeed. Distributed Accountability breaks down silos and establishes a peer-to-peer accountability relationship between people in every layer of a company, across all departments. It is communication with data that supports decision-making among those whose work impacts a neighboring department or the next person in a process.

“Distributed Accountability is about moving accountability from a vertical, siloed model of olden days to a horizontal process and data-supported structure of modern, technology-powered decision making that cares for employees and fosters a higher lifetime value of customers.”

“Distributed Accountability” Empowers People Through Process, Technology, & Data

Distributed Accountability is the framework for everything we do at Atomic Revenue. We empower people through process, technology, and data. We have a process, and everyone in the company has a role in that process. We use technology and data to meet our goals on a daily basis.

If just one person does not fulfill their part of the process, then everyone’s work before theirs has been wasted and everyone who relies on that person to take the next step cannot do their job effectively. Work stops, and outcomes are not achieved.

This is true for any organization. Nobody works in a bubble without depending on the work of others to succeed. Let’s use sales and marketing as an example because this is a recurring situation.

If sales can give marketing verbal and data-driven feedback on which parts of the lead generation process are producing high value – which are qualified leads and which ones are not – then marketing can put more of its budget and effort to better support successful sales conversion. Sales and marketing are accountable to each other; they talk to each other, report to each other, and align to produce desired company outcomes.

These team members are empowered through process and data as well as accountability to their peers in a neighboring department with whom they have developed a cooperative working relationship.

Distributed Accountability is Horizontal Not Vertical

In the old-school, siloed accountability structure, the chain of command is vertical. Let’s look at a couple of examples that every business leader will recognize.

Marketing & Sales

If sales doesn’t like marketing’s leads, the sales team tells their manager who communicates with the marketing manager. The chain of decision making looks like this:

  1. Each manager considers their separate data and is not involved in the actual conversations or work to produce the data.
  2. Based on their limited data, they make decisions about the quantity of apparently qualified leads.
  3. They either agree or disagree on a solution, then communicate back to their teams, who carry on with their work based on management’s perspective.
  4. Either the sales team is told to work harder to convert leads because “marketing is producing the quantity of quality leads needed,” or marketing asks for a bigger budget to drive more leads.

This manager-to-team communication results in lost information and less accountability. The marketing and sales teams do not have direct communication to understand how their work impacts improvements for the other group.

With Distributed Accountability in place, these silos disappear, communication opens between people in all departments (not just managers), and at the end of the day, they realize they are all on the same team.

Sales & Operations

Another example is sales and operations. When sales closes deals, in a vertical silo, operations doesn’t provide feedback about the expectations that were set with the customer or opportunities to improve deal structure for future customers.

Also, the operations department most likely doesn’t plan for the volume and timeline of deals heading their way. With Distributed Accountability, conversion-rate data can be used to see how long it actually takes to close a specific type of deal, and based on the amount of those deals in the pipeline, operations can be informed about when to expect new customers for onboarding and how to staff, order, and prepare for that work.

Similarly, if delivery was too slow or more costly than promised in the sales process, sales and operations can work together to modify customer contracts/agreements for the reality of current operations, including pricing, scheduling, labor, inventory, and logistics. Sales can then set promised or contractual expectations and produce more satisfied customers when operations is aligned with those expectations.

Distributed Accountability is not managers being held accountable for the work of their team members. It is every individual within the organization being accountable for producing the data and fulfilling the process associated with their role while communicating horizontally with their peers to allow each person to do their jobs better. By better, think about faster, more profitable work at higher volumes with happier and more satisfied people (customers, employees, vendors, and partners).

Distributed Accountability in Relation to the Buyer Journey

When Distributed Accountability aligns with the buyer journey, not only are cross-functional teams working together to facilitate the best customer experience possible, they are working together to scale operations as customer volumes increase.

Distributed Accountability supports profitable, scalable growth as well as a measurable buyer journey. My keynote presentations and workshops about KPIs, Dashboards, Marketing, and Sales Accountability as well as Employee Recruiting, Onboarding, and Retention, all focus on Distributed Accountability to improve business processes as well as measurable performance.

At Atomic Revenue we specialize in end-to-end revenue production with seven stages of the buyer journey (awareness, inquiry, conversion, retention, expansion, customer advocacy). This model works for all companies in all industries as a general framework for aligning all business departments for a common business objective. We work with teams to balance customer acquisition requirements for business growth with a high-value customer experience that fulfills the working ambitions of “internal customers” (a.k.a. employees).

When buyers don’t flow through the funnel with ease because the hand-off from one internal department or person to another is broken, the customer experience will be unsatisfactory, peer-to-peer accountability breaks down, and team members become dissatisfied with their work resulting in employee turnover.

“The buyer journey establishes a peer-to-peer, horizontal, linear accountability. That’s what Distributed Accountability is all about. We are each accountable to our peers for accomplishing our part of the process so they can do their part of the process to accomplish outcomes that produce win-win-win outcomes (customer win, employee win, company win).”

How Do You Distribute Accountability?

Every organization wants accountability. In most companies, accountability is assigned to managers who are responsible for a team and specific outcomes. They are expected to meet certain key performance indicators (KPIs). The data for those KPIs depends on information from one or more neighboring departments, who get it from other departments and are accountable for a different set of outcomes.

With Distributed Accountability, the data and communication flow horizontally through all departments at tactical layers, managerial layers, and executive layers, so everyone has the information required to make the decisions required by their specific role in an organization.

If teams cannot access the data that directly impacts their assigned objectives, they won’t be able to see the impact of their decisions to optimize outcomes in pursuit of revenue, profitability, or their job-growth goals.

So how do you start shifting your vertical hierarchy and establish Distributed Accountability? It’s a process, and it won’t happen overnight, but you can do it with the following steps.

5 Steps to Distributed Accountability

  1. Create good processes for all departments and the roles within them. There is not a single area of a company that doesn’t need a standardized process.
  2. Keep the 7 stages of the buyer journey at the forefront of all processes – with a focus on the customer experience, everyone at your company can work toward a common goal.
  3. Empower each person with training and technology to perform their part of the process with an emphasis on how collecting and sharing data helps them and others perform better.
  4. Develop meaningful, measurable KPIs for each process that can be accessed by everyone so they can see, in real-time if necessary, what is working and what needs improvement.
  5. Provide access to relevant data at every layer of the organization to break down the silos and improve cross-department collaboration in achieving shared company objectives.

The only way company leadership can take the responsibility and inefficiency of managerial accountability out of their operating and labor budgets is to aggregate the data from multiple departments, every system, and each process and distribute that information to the people who can use it to make better decisions every day.

When your team has access to the data they need to perform their best and has responsibility for being good stewards of the data that others need to do the same, everyone can make informed decisions to improve outcomes linked to your organization’s success.

Distributed Accountability At-a-Glance

Distributed Accountability means everyone at each layer of your company is accountable for the outcomes of their work quality and decisions. They know how their performance is measured, who their performance impacts, and what they are responsible for contributing to the workplace including:

 

  • Following a defined process/workflow.
  • Improving their process based on measurable outcomes and peer feedback.
  • Providing constructive feedback and assistance to neighboring departments.
  • Collaborating across departments to solve problems and improve outcomes.

Good Business is No Longer a Customer-First Culture

The biggest mistake companies make, especially any service-based business, is to follow the outdated concept of a “customer-first culture.” When your customers come first, it automatically pushes the people who serve the customers to a lower priority. Acquiring and retaining customers becomes infinitely more difficult if those who serve them are second-class participants in the engagement. The imbalance of respect, power, and trust completely skews both the employee and the customer experience.

Yes, you want to have all people, process, technology, and data geared to the outcome of customer advocacy. However, you will never get to customer advocacy if your “internal customers” (a.k.a. team members) are unhappy, disengaged, and unsupported. If your internal team isn’t motivated, inspired, and empowered to deliver the desired customer experience, they will rarely meet objectives, which will be directly reflected in employee and customer attrition rates.

So, “how do you balance the needs of your internal teams, improve customer experience, and remain profitable as a company?”

  • At Atomic Revenue, we shifted our focus to prioritizing internal customers with a focus on what our employees and contractors need in order to sell more contracts and retain more external customers.
  • At AuVis, the dashboard automation company we spun off in 2020, we made sure that there were no reasons why companies would limit access to performance and KPI information with unlimited users and options for multiple user-permission settings.

Both of these companies focus on empowering people with data so that accountability is distributed, silos are broken, and collaboration can thrive for continuous operations and profitability improvement.

By creating a defined process, assigning data to the process, ensuring everyone has the technology they need to do their jobs, virtually or in person, and prioritizing the people who make the business work, you have the capacity to put customers first as a measurable team-performance outcome.

More Examples of Distributed Accountability

As mentioned, process, data, and technology need to integrate people from multiple departments to produce outcomes, accomplish projects, and provide feedback loops for mutual success. This is true with internal employees and external contractors, such as fractional executives, as well as vendor service providers.

Here are a few more examples in different types of companies and common scenarios where Distributed Accountability makes a huge difference.

Digital Marketing

In a digital marketing campaign, the person who manages email campaigns needs to know more than just who opened the email, clicked on a link, bounced, or unsubscribed. This person needs to know things like:

  1. Who did sales engage with as a result of the email?
  2. How did the email impact the sales conversion rate and timeline for those prospects or customers who engaged with the content?
  3. Did an email click-through directly result in new web form submissions or a direct lead inquiry through social media?
  4. Did the BDR team set more appointments as a result of the email?
  5. Did the engaged email participants buy more (larger contracts, higher lifetime value) as a result of reading the email? What did they purchase?

Once the digital marketing department has this type of data from their peers in sales, operations, customer service, and even finance, they can determine what’s working and what’s not to adjust email campaign content, list segmentation, campaign landing pages, downloadables, or opt-ins to maximize a revenue ROI for the company. Not only does Distributed Accountability help improve the campaigns and customer engagement, but the campaign itself should be a catalyst for the success of peer initiatives.

Banking or Technology

When a banking customer calls in for tech support or banking assistance, the salesperson is rarely informed and there is often no record of that service engagement with the customer in the CRM that the salesperson uses to manage all of their accounts. The CRM systems in banking, as in many other industries, have traditionally been set up to serve the process of a single group and the data reporting to that group’s management team. The technology systems are set up in a way that literally establishes data and process silos instead of distributing accountability for company success, customer success, team collaboration, and employee satisfaction.

If the customer service department simply solves the problem and moves on to the next customer, there’s a lost opportunity for sales to determine additional client needs or new products or solutions to solve those needs, and therefore directly impacts cross-sell or upsell opportunities that drive lifetime value of customers.

Distributed Accountability here, facilitated by technology that empowers people with process and data focused on the customer experience, would provide the salesperson with real-time information about whether the customer needs additional outreach for strengthening or maintaining the relationship.

Engineering

The engineering sales process is unique, yet the lack of distributed accountability reveals the same challenges in almost every engineering firm I’ve advised over the past twenty-plus years in this industry.

Marketing departments generate leads. The sales department receives and qualifies those leads while working to advance a sales conversation. Over the course of a long sales cycle, marketing rarely learns which leads become customers so the performance process and data for marketing is completely out of alignment with the performance process and data of their peers in the sales department.

By the time the sales cycle closes, all source information has been lost so there is rarely first touch, last touch, or nurturing attribution credited to marketing and no feedback to marketing that helps the team better serve the sales department.

Now that the deal is closed, it moves into the engineering department, and the engineering team begins to deliver the project. The sales team is not on-site with the engineers to determine where there may be other sales opportunities or client needs. When sales is entirely removed from the information loop once a project moves into engineering, a whole host of new challenges arise.

Questions arise like who is identifying the next sales opportunity with that customer?

  • How accurate is the time and materials quote?
  • Are there factors that sales could uncover in the discovery process that would allow for more accurate quoting of future engineering projects for that client or future new clients?
  • Why did the customer pick us, would they pick us again, would they recommend us?
  • Can we leverage this relationship to meet others who also need our services?
  • And the list goes on and on.

These are excellent examples of when marketing, sales, and service all work together to set expectations with a customer and fulfill those expectations while continuing a relationship to be THE preferred engineering partner with that customer. Everyone has a role in the process: the data is shared, the customer experience is shared, and the profitability impact on the company is shared.

Distributed Accountability keeps customer acquisition costs (CAC) to a minimum and increases revenue by creating customer advocacy instead of constantly paying to get new customers.

Lateral Peer-to-Peer Communication and Data Access Are Keys to Success

Distributed Accountability gives everyone in an organization access to the data they need from any other department in the company so every individual and team can do their best work while improving customer experience, lifetime value of customer, and business profitability.

When leadership invests in the company’s ability to provide access to the KPIs and information that directly impacts business objectives, teams can achieve measurable results and drive performance improvements on their own.

If you’re not sure where to start with the Distributed Accountability process, let’s talk about it. I do workshops for leadership teams, peer groups, and industry associations but am also willing to dive in and problem-solve specific opportunities with your company. Grab some time on my calendar to “Pick my Brain” and let’s find some ways to distribute accountability for the benefit of your people, your customers, and your business’s bottom line.