Winning In Your Circle of Control: Mastering Functional Accountability

Legendary basketball coach John Wooden once said, 

“I wanted to win every single game I played in or coached.  But I understand that ultimately the winning or losing may not be under my control.  What was under my control was how I prepared myself and my team. I judged my success, my winning, on that. It just made more sense.” 

This statement captures the essence of functional accountability in business. Winning or losing are not in your direct control but more so in someone’s influence. In today’s fast-paced and often unpredictable business landscape, the ability to distinguish between factors within our direct control and those within our influence is paramount. To thrive in this environment, understanding and implementing the Functional Accountability Chart can be the key to unlocking scalable success and growth.

Your Circle of Control

Central to functional accountability is mastering ‘The Circle of Control’:

The art is in:

Focusing on What's in Your Control: These are the factors and actions directly under your influence that you can manage and manipulate to achieve desired outcomes.

Trusting What's in Your Influence: These are the areas where your actions and decisions significantly impact outcomes, even if you don't have direct control over them.

Avoiding Being Distracted by What's Out of Your Control: External factors like the economy, competitors, or politics can be distracting. While they may influence outcomes, they are beyond your control, and focusing on them can lead to inefficiencies and missed opportunities.


Let’s take a look at how this can show up in your organization. 

What’s in your control?

  1. Number of Meetings: The frequency and quality of interactions with your team members and stakeholders play a pivotal role in shaping outcomes. For instance, a marketing manager who regularly meets with the sales team can better align strategies and drive coordinated campaigns.
  2. Quality of Connections: Engaging with individuals closer to the decision-making process can significantly influence results. For example, a product manager who builds strong relationships with R&D and customer service teams can drive product improvements and enhance customer satisfaction.
  3. Personal Preparedness: Being proactive in mastering your craft, showing up prepared, and delivering your best sets the stage for success. I’ll use myself as an example. In every client, team, and sales meeting, I need to bring my A-game. Before each call, I need to invest time preparing and staying up-to-date with any industry trends to deliver transformative solutions.  

What’s in your realm of influence?

  1. Hitting Key Metrics: While we may not have direct control over revenue and profitability, our actions and decisions significantly influence these outcomes. For instance, a sales leader who implements effective sales strategies and provides training to the sales team can drive not only revenue growth, but improve profitability as well.

Define Winning and Accountability

Functional accountability shifts the focus from mere activities to the desired outcomes. If you're responsible for the outcome, understanding the levers to pull is essential. Ultimately, you're accountable for winning, and if you fall short, it's crucial to know why and be able to outline your plan to succeed next time.

Functional Accountability Chart

The Functional Accountability Chart serves as a strategic roadmap, guiding you to:

  1. Surround Yourself with A-Players: People who push you, challenge you, and don't need to be managed are invaluable. For example, a project manager who leads a high-performing team can drive project success, deliver revenue, and exceed client expectations without drama.
  2. Align Around Functional Capabilities: Clearly defining roles and responsibilities ensures everyone knows their part in achieving organizational goals. In a sales organization, each department (e.g., marketing, administrative, finance) should clearly understand its role in driving sales and customer satisfaction.
  3. List Leading KPIs: Identifying predictive indicators of winning for each position helps in tracking performance and making data-driven decisions. A marketing manager might track KPIs such as website traffic, lead conversion rates, and customer acquisition costs.
  4. Define Winning for Each Position: Understanding what success looks like for each role is crucial. For instance, a customer service representative's success might be measured by customer satisfaction scores and resolution times.
Functional Accountability Chart


Organizations are built and run by people. You need to attract, retain, and develop the best people to drive your business forward. When you have the right people in the right roles doing the right thing, the execution of your strategy is 80-90% solved.

When assessing your people, the best place to start is at the top – your executive level team. Use the Functional Accountability Chart (or FACe) to clarify who is responsible for each essential business process and how that person will be held accountable for their performance.

Four Key Questions to Ask:

  1. Is there more than one person in a seat?
  2. Is there a person in more than one seat?
  3. Are there empty seats?
  4. Would I enthusiastically rehire everyone on my team?

Out of all of these questions, the fourth one is the most delicate question to answer. However, there comes a point where you and your organization may outgrow people. If an employee is not growing with you, it’s time to make a difficult decision.

Tip: Don’t forget to ensure that key elements of your Profit & Loss (P&L) and Balance Sheet (BS) have someone accountable.

Measuring Success with Functional Capabilities

How do you know if you've won the quarter? A true measure of success should encompass:

  • Quantity: Did you achieve the desired volume or output? For instance, a manufacturing company aiming to produce 10,000 units in a quarter should track production levels to ensure targets are met.
  • Quality: Was the output of high quality and met the specified standards? What percentage had defects? A software development company might measure quality through bug rates, customer feedback, and user satisfaction scores.
  • Cost: Were the results achieved efficiently within the budget? What is the cost per unit? A finance director might monitor expenses, overhead costs, and return on investment (ROI) to ensure financial targets are met.

What a Functional Accountability Isn't:

  • A Project: While projects are important and contribute to future success, they should not be the sole measure of winning. A manager should treat projects as a priority to be accomplished over a period of time. The goal of the project may be to improve performance. However, while the project is being implemented, the manager is still accountable for meeting performance standards.  
  • A Leading KPI: While leading KPIs predict winning, they are not the final measure of success. For example, a marketing manager might use website traffic as a leading KPI, but the ultimate measure of success is the customer conversion rate and cost of customer acquisition.

Here’s how different departments in an organization might show up:

For example, the marketing department should define winning by leads generated or conversion rates. The amount of time people download your content or click on your ad isn’t enough. While they are leading indicators, they shouldn’t be your end goal.

Common Company KPI’s

At the company level, we have KPIs that are always part of your income statement. These are the true definitions of winning for the company.

  • ​​Operating Income/EBITDA Dollars
  • Gross Profit Dollars
  • Operating Cash Flow

You may have noticed that I’ve excluded a certain popular company KPI from the list – revenue. Break the habit of thinking and communicating about revenue. Instead, focus on profit and cash. Never forget:

Revenue is vanity.

Profit is sanity.

Cash is king.

Business leaders can fall in love with revenue without an accurate understanding of the implications on profits and cash flow. The best entrepreneurs aim for sustainable growth by prioritizing profit measures, like gross profit dollars, over revenue dollars.

Tips to determine leading KPIs

Answer the following questions:

  1. What went right when you delivered?

           a. When you have a good month/quarter, why did you win?

      2. What went wrong when you did not deliver?

            b. When you have a bad month/quarter, why did you miss it?

A construction company client was falling short of their profitability targets when we were invited to assess the situation.  One cause identified were project delays and delayed billings.  Subcontractors were missing their invoice due dates, causing these invoices to roll over into the next month. To address this, the company began tracking the percentage of subcontractors submitting all invoices on time and then each job’s percentage complete against the master schedule.  These leading indicators, coupled with related operational changes, significantly improved the company's revenue generation, cash flow, and overall profitability.

Leading Indicators vs Lagging Measures

Managing  a business can be very much like driving a car. For example, what would happen if you covered your windshield with black paint and were asked to drive a route ONLY looking through the rear-view mirror? Would it be possible? What words would you use to describe this experience? How about the other way around? Driving a car without a rear-view mirror? 

As you can see from this analogy, some of the most important information for avoiding peril and successfully navigating difficult terrain (or markets) is how far ahead you can see. Leading indicators help you to look ahead. When you drive at night, your headlights have to shine out farther the faster you are going – to give you visibility to drive safely. Leading indicators are your headlights, helping you see what’s ahead. 

However, seeing what you have covered over a period of time is also important. How long did it take you to get to your first milestone?  In growth companies – and businesses – we call these lagging measures.  While leading indicators are typically measured daily or weekly and predict winning, lagging measures are typically measured and reported weekly or monthly and define winning. The most successful growth companies measure and monitor both for successful development and execution of their quarterly and annual plans.

The right measures enable you to answer these three questions at the end of each week:

  1. Did you have a good week or a bad week? If you had a goal for five sales meetings and had four, that’s a bad week. If you have six, that’s a good week.
  2. Are you on-track or off-track with your plan? Green is on-track, yellow is there’s risk, and red is a serious risk.
  3. How is your performance trending? Are you getting better or are you getting worse? If you’re trending negatively, take it as an alert that something needs to improve.

Even if you’re missing your goal, you can find good news in one of these indicators and anticipate trends. For instance, you might have had a good week but be off-track for your monthly goal. Yet, your performance could be trending positive. 

Employees Want Autonomy

Employers freely give autonomy to those willing to be accountable.

Accountability is difficult to mandate. It only happens when your team makes the choice to commit to specific results. Here are five steps that can help you foster a culture of accountability.

  1. Be clear. Make sure people understand what is expected of them.
  2. Ensure buy-in. Team members must believe in the goals and be dedicated to meeting them.
  3. Ask for the plan. Look for key milestones, weekly activities, and up-to-date performance.
  4. Keep ownership where it belongs. Resist the urge to be the chief problem solver. Instead, drive down problem-solving to the appropriate level and team.
  5. Establish clear consequences. Have intentional conversations when outcomes are not matching expectations.

Mastering functional accountability is about understanding your circle of control, defining winning clearly, and holding yourself and your team accountable for results. By focusing on what's within your control, leveraging your influence, and aligning around functional capabilities, you can create a winning strategy that drives sustainable growth and success.

Key Takeaways

  • Create clarity around the functional accountabilities for each role on your leadership team
  • Stack your team with A-Players
  • Drive your leading KPIs weekly if not daily

Ready to take your company and team’s growth to the next level? I'm excited to offer you the chance to download the tools you need to unlock success the RISE way. If you're looking to grow your business and team, these tools will help you document your goals and keep yourself and your team accountable. 

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