Healthy Accountability – Metrics for Everyone

Published by Mark Zerbach on


Leadership Article Series


In an ideal company, all employees are achieving their potential and working together as one seamless body toward the same goal. In this scenario, all individuals would have to precisely execute their assigned tasks within a specific time frame, allowing for no break in the flow across the organization. For this to happen, all the employees would have to know if they are meeting the given standards. Someone would have to provide them with the necessary data and metrics, then hold them accountable for their particular role in the overall process. It’s a leader’s responsibility to show people where they stand and how their work is contributing to the company’s success. According to the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, healthy accountability has a clear link to improved competency, commitment, morale, and satisfaction in the workplace.

Key Terms

  • Metrics: real-time feedback that allows employees to self-correct.
  • Healthy Accountability: performance measured by metrics established by the whole team.
    “Punitive” Accountability: negative metrics managers use when demanding improvement.


The goal of every leader is to have a high-performing company run by high-performing employees. There are a lot of different factors that contribute to that goal, and accountability is near the top of that list in importance. At the heart of accountability are goals and the metrics used to measure progress toward those goals. After goals have been set, leaders must determine what metrics are going to be used, and then set up a system to gather data. Metrics must be current and reflect things that you and your employees can control. Metrics must also be relevant and specific to each group. The data and metrics are then monitored and used to course correct, ensuring that the goal is met in the end.

By providing data and metrics, leaders allow for healthy accountability at the individual and group levels. A standard may be set, but people have to see where their performance stands in relation to that standard. Leaders have to make it possible for people to see if they’re doing well or falling short. Employees generally care about their performance and will make adjustments on their own if they see they’re not meeting the standard, especially if they helped to create the standard. These standards need to be tied back to the specific goals the teams helped set in the first place.

Employees’ accountability is closely related to their sense of ownership. The reason employees will self-correct is because they want to do their part in making the whole company successful. If they don’t know how they’re doing, they won’t know if they’re making a difference in the company, and they won’t feel a sense of ownership. By simply working with employees to establish goals and providing data on those goals, leaders can help their employees feel like they’re part of the bigger picture.

Using the word “healthy” to describe accountability means more than just gathering data. The premise of “healthy accountability” implies the proper use of that data. It’s common practice for managers to provide data after the fact, just showing employees where they’ve fallen short. This only demeans and rarely improves performance long-term. This is what I call “punitive data.” It only serves to punish behavior and is not helpful in changing that behavior. Data needs to be shared in a non-judgemental way throughout the process. This allows people to course-correct before it’s too late.

By sharing data in a non-punitive, non-judgemental way, you also help build trust. You have to consistently gather and share the data, and your employees will soon understand that you’ll continue doing that. If you see good and steady performance over time, you learn to trust that employee. If an employee sees you sharing data in a helpful way over time, they learn to trust that you’re looking out for them.

There are other ways that sharing key metrics can create workplace accountability. One is that it shows the company’s goals and progress towards those goals. This helps everyone prioritize and reduces distractions. Another is that it can create some healthy competition, especially when people get rewarded for meeting benchmarks and goals. If the data is openly shared, employees know that everyone will be able to see their groups’ performance, and groups can work together, balancing the workload and supporting each other.

Conversely, lack of accountability generally creates a compounding, cumulative problem. If you don’t hold people accountable (yourself included), and you let things slip, you’re setting a norm which suggests that your goals are not important. Soon, not meeting goals becomes the de facto standard for how things are to be done. A lack of accountability in one group can also affect the company as a whole. A delay along one step of the process then becomes a delay in the next step, and so on. If one group doesn’t do their job, the next group in the process has less time to do their part. This usually leads to shortcuts, a decrease in quality, and using overtime to recover, all of which affect profit. The delays and shortcomings can be carried all the way down to the customer. As one group grows frustrated with another group’s lack of accountability, their desire to fix other people’s mistakes dwindles. Over time, silos are formed between the groups, and a decline in both performance and morale can snowball throughout the company.

Though it’s the leaders’ job to make a plan for accountability, it needs to become a part of the company culture to be most effective. Everyone in the company needs to be involved accessing the data to hold themselves, their teams, and other teams accountable. And everyone needs to feel like they can hold other people accountable in a healthy way, without fear of retribution. You, as the leader, will have to set the example in this area. Share facts in a non-punitive way, and let people say where they feel others – including you – are falling short. Get the employees involved if a recovery plan needs to be developed and deployed. Let everyone see that you are gathering data to help them and the company. Take the time to explain to your employees what healthy accountability means in your workplace. Show them how it can benefit them when done properly and explain what can happen both when goals and metrics are met and when they fail. Make it a goal to establish a culture of healthy accountability. Be sure to celebrate when the metrics are met and thank the teams for their performance.

Real-world example

When I was working in a leadership role several years ago, I implemented a system of accountability. One of the components of that system was a type of yearly report. Each year, in October, I would prepare a three- to four-page document for my team. Since there were different groups within my team, I would sometimes have to prepare four or five different reports. The document provided each group with the following information:

  • Highlights and successes from that year – both theirs and the company’s
  • Challenges coming in the next year – new products, competition, customer expectations
  • Areas of potential and opportunities within the group that we could take advantage of
  • My proposed goals for the upcoming year

I would give everyone a copy of the document, give them a week to read and digest it, and let them know we’d be meeting to discuss it. At that meeting, we’d discuss, negotiate, and ultimately pin down goals we all committed to. After that, I’d revise the document to reflect our decisions, and then we would use that information to determine what metrics we would use to measure those goals. We also would take into account the corporate goals and metrics that upper management wanted us to report weekly.

The next step in this process was for the employees to meet with their team leads to determine their particular role in meeting the team goals. From there, they would work together to set personal performance goals and tie these into their individual performance plans. All the employees had their group and personal goals displayed in their workspace so they could regularly monitor their own success.

Throughout the year we held celebratory events as people continued to meet goals. They owned the goals and metrics and understood how it all worked together for the group’s — and the company’s — success. As a result, each individual, each group, and consequently, the team as a whole, knocked it out of the park and met all their goals.

Categories: Leadership