We are big on accountability, and we are not afraid to show it. It’s not just a buzzword that we adopted for the warm, fuzzy feelings it inspires in our clients.
We feel so strongly about accountability that it is one of our five Core Values. One of my jobs as a Co-Founder is to make sure that the entire company lives up to our values. If nothing else, my role is to lead by example and show our teams and clients that we mean what we say.
To that end, I have devoted this space to talking about how we built an accountable team and how other digital marketing agencies (or any business that services clients) can cultivate an accountable culture.
What is accountability? And what isn’t it?
First off, accountability is not the same as transparency, although they are related. Simply being transparent doesn’t mean that a company necessarily stands behind their work.
Accountability is more than just measuring results. There are four primary pillars:
- Responsibility: All team members know their roles and success metrics.
- Justification: Strategies, tactics, and results are research-based and fact-driven.
- Ownership: Each team member owns his or her own actions and results.
- Honesty: Clear, truthful communication creates rapport and trust.
Why even bother with accountability?
Agencies service clients. Clients demand results. It is in our best interest to keep our clients updated on our progress towards hitting their corporate objectives. If we don’t, we run the risk of depleting our clients’ trust in us.
We fail our clients if we are not communicating, even when our results are stellar and exceeding expectations. Even more importantly, we must own up to the truth when our efforts are not hitting the mark and proactively share our plans to course correct.
It is better to over-communicate than under-communicate in almost every situation. In nine years of running a digital marketing company, I have heard from exactly ZERO clients that said we were annoying them with too much communication.
Who needs to be held accountable?
In short, everybody. But let’s dig a little deeper than that. I’ll use examples from our agency to explain the roles and responsibilities that we have in place. This model works for agency/client relationships as well as in-house teams with multiple levels of management.
PPC/SEO Analysts – Responsible for Results
These team members manage the day-to-day strategies and tactical execution for a digital marketing campaign. They provide regular reporting and track progress towards campaign objectives.
We have the title “Analyst” at Workshop Digital, but others could be called Account Manager, Digital Marketing Specialist, or other similar titles.
Team Manager – Responsible for Process
The Manager supervises and leads a team of Analysts to accomplish client objectives. He/she is responsible for overall performance but not involved in day-to-day campaign management.
In some organizations, this person could be called a Manager, Director, or Supervisor.
Client/Stakeholder – Responsible for Feedback
Often the least accountable role, we must remember to hold our clients or in-house stakeholders accountable. They don’t get a free pass just because they pay the bills and have the authority to hire/fire an agency or in-house team.
Generally speaking, the client sets the overall business objective and could have a title like CMO, Marketing Director, or Lord Business.
Accountability flows in all directions
Relationships work best when both sides trust each other and work together to accomplish a shared goal. In other words, one-way relationships rarely stand the test of time. Similarly, accountability can’t just be a one-way expectation.
In our accountability model, we end up with a three-way flow of accountability that looks something like this:
Successfully navigating this complex web of communication requires a lot of training and properly set expectations. Most of these expectations should be set in the upfront discovery and planning processes, and reinforced in weekly/monthly/quarterly business reviews.
What are you missing?
I created an interactive Google Spreadsheet to serve as a digital marketing accountability scorecard. Feel free to make a copy of the sheet and assess your team’s strengths and weaknesses. Be honest with yourself. Once you have identified your weaknesses, prioritize your communication and training to shore up the foundation.
We all need to improve, all the time
I would be lying if I said we executed flawlessly 100% of the time. We fail often and own our mistakes, but we also learn from them and try like hell to never make the same mistake again. As our team grows, we have to constantly reevaluate how we approach relationships both internally and externally. If we’re not accountable to each other and to our clients, our business will wither and our reputation will suffer.
So how do we improve our team’s accountability? And yes, our team needs to include our clients. Here are some quick ways to reinforce the basics:
Analysts need to improve results
- Automate routine tasks to focus on strategic thinking.
- Pull in additional team members to audit each other’s work & brainstorm new ideas.
- Set up automated alerts and monitoring to detect anomalies.
- Provide clear, insightful reporting, not just numbers.
Managers need to improve process
- Provide training and coaching.
- Write clear job descriptions and review performance accordingly.
- Have an open door policy.
- Align process with company objectives.
- Don’t direct people, train them to self-direct.
Clients need to improve feedback
- Set realistic, measurable goals.
- Provide timely approvals and feedback.
- Understand that digital marketing can’t solve every business problem.
- Show appreciation for your team’s effort.
Accountability yields better results
It’s not an easy solution and there is no quick fix. but accountable teams are going to deliver better results, form longer-lasting relationships, coalesce around challenges, and support each other even when times are tough.
After all, every member of your team is going to function better when he/she knows what is expected and is held to a higher standard.