Accountability – The Lost Art


By Marty D. Blake, Chief Operating Officer, Optimé International Inc.

Sales management is a tough gig that is usually made more difficult by exactly those who are attempting to succeed at it…managers themselves. Sales managers wear many hats and they need to wear each of them well…not all of them perfectly…but each of them well. Based on my observations and work with hundreds of sales leaders across multiple industries, those who are at the top of the heap, in terms of performance, inevitably have leaned on a very important best practice, “Accountability”. They do this by both being accountable and establishing accountability with each member of their team. 


By definition, accountability is: The quality or state of being accountable; especially: an obligation or willingness to accept responsibility or to account for one’s actions. This seems so simple, but creating the conditions where accountability flourishes is often a missed opportunity.

Highly effective leaders understand the power of energizing people to accept responsibility for their actions. When I begin work with a sales organization, one of the first things I do is ask both the managers and sales people what they each do and what they are accountable for delivering. In the case of managers, I also ask what the people reporting to them are accountable for. 

Early on, I found it surprising how many organizations had a significant disconnect between the leaders’ expectations and their team members’ understanding of their deliverables. In fact, in a study cited in Harvard Business Review, it was found that 46% of high-level managers ranked poorly on the measure of “Holds people accountable when they don’t deliver.” 


To build a culture of accountability, it is incumbent on leaders and managers to cultivate it. To do this, managers must first look at their own actions. Below are five principles that will help to encourage and develop that sometimes elusive quality of accountability.

  • Establish clear goals and measures (metrics) for the team as a whole and each of its members. Review these goals regularly with each member, to reinforce your expectations. This will allow you to monitor progress and coach individual and team behaviours towards success.
  • Remove any confusion amongst team members by working with them to establish clarity around roles, expectations and the measurable goals you have set. Follow up with documentation, so that everyone has a common understanding of what they need to do to achieve those goals.
  • Negativity has no home in your organization. Do not engage in, be a party to, or passively allow negative dialogue or behavior, whether it’s about team members, parts of the organization or customers. As the leader, you need to set an example. If you see negativity beginning, you must shut it down immediately and help those involved to find positivity.
  • Take responsibility for yourself. Live and breathe accountability for your own deliverables. The best way to show your team how to be accountable is to let them see it in action. Then, hold them accountable for their own goals.
  • Ask questions – Sales managers are most effective when applying the same questioning skills, like Optimé’s Playing Catch™ process, that they developed when they were in the field. They are less effective when they are being directive and prescriptive. As the adage goes, “When you tell somebody how to do something you deny them both awareness and responsibility.” Create accountability through the effective use of questions and your role as a leader will be significantly easier and more productive.


At its heart, accountability is a two-way street that both sales managers and their teams need to travel together. Great communication, that is proactive and consistent, along with application of the five principles above, will help to generate increased accountability for you and your team.

Until next time…Good Luck and Good Selling!