I want to return to the term “Accountability” and expand on why I use it with some uneasiness. It gets bandied about in business all the time. Hold your people Accountable, we hear. Why aren’t you holding him Accountable for these numbers? I’m going to hold the entire team Accountable for making this deadline…

I said early in Chapter 1 that this book grew as we focused on the difficult “hinge” of the Seven Questions critical to cultivating engaged team members, detailed in my previous book, The Patient Organization. I phrased this hinge question “Am I Accountable?”and I have returned again and again to Accountability. It is at the heart of the Org Graph and the Organizational Cognizance Model.

“Accountability” is central to everything here, but the word gets used in misleading ways. At 7Q7P, we believe deeply that you cannot hold someone Accountable in an organization. The only three people who can hold me Accountable are me, myself, and I. Rather than saying, you need to hold Fred Accountable, we believe, the smarter stance is, how can we create the awareness – better yet, Cognizance – that will allow Fred to hold himself Accountable?

The common usage, holding people Accountable, arises from an old hierarchical, command-and-control approach. Hold someone Accountable?Think about that language. Sounds more appropriate for a wrestling match or a prison than a 21st-century business, right? The phrase and the philosophy behind it reflect the rigid old Org Chart, a schematic designed for layers of workers to be controlled by ever-smaller layers as we work our way up a food chain. It was fine back in the old nine-to-five days when everyone reported to one brick-and-mortar office and had a single boss. It was fine when thinking was done at the top by a few lieutenants and the formula Person = Job held true. In an era of fluid Teams, project-based work, diffuse thinking, telecommuting, mobile offices, automation, and globalization, it is no longer fine.

We hear “Accountable” and think, supervision, oppression, management, leash. I’m trying to take the word back with the Org Graph and the Organizational Cognizance Model, where Accountability isn’t oppressive but liberating. The old-school notion that ICs must be “managed” because their default is to avoid Accountability is, excuse my French, B.S. ICs want to be led, not managed, and they want real Accountability more than anything. The Gallup numbers we saw in Chapter 1, indicating that more than two-thirds of U.S. workers are not actively engaged, result largely from ICs’ deep-seated frustration that leaders are not communicating clearly or creating the conditions for true Accountability, i.e. Self-Accountability.

I explore this concept in depth in The Patient Organization, where I argue that real Accountability – which requires understanding clearly the Objectives and Key Results you’re aiming for and all of the moving parts that get you to them – can turn drones into stars. It can transform frustrated ICs into engaged problem-solvers by opening clear communication channels, establishing fair and transparent measures, setting concrete goals, and putting ICs in control of their own work.

The million-dollar challenge is how to achieve this kind of Accountability. The solution is the Org Graph and the Organizational Cognizance Method. As I’ve mentioned, this book and the Org Graph grew out of the need for concrete strategies to get to yes to that critical hinge, Question three: Am I Accountable? The Org Graph offers ICs real Accountability by revealing with just a couple of mouse clicks exactly where they fit in the organization. With the Org Graph, they know with utter clarity what Objectives they are AccountableFor and the Key Results they are ResponsibleFor achieving – Nodes and Edges that they themselves create. They can see exactly what Meetings they’ll Attend, the Workflow they’ll ParticipateIn, the Processes they’ll Follow, and the Systems they’ll InterfaceWith in order to meet those Objectives and Key Results. With input from leaders, they build and update the Org Graph themselves, and they are Accountable in the truest sense – to themselves.

In those rare instances when an IC is constitutionally averse to work, with an Org Graph in place, there’s nowhere to hide. There’s no way to claim you didn’t know what you were ResponsibleFor or AccountableFor, the Processes you should have Followed, the Mentor you might have asked for help, or the Entities you needed to InteractWith. It’s all right there on screen, controlled by you, with input from a leader and available in multiple helpful views. If the problem is a lack of Skills, that’s also evident on the Org Graph, in the gap between “Has” and “Requires” on the Skills Node.


As we helped clients that we were coaching install the Org Graph in our first test runs, we could see – and they agreed – that it created true Accountability better than any other tool in our arsenal. The Org graph does more than that, however. The drive to create the Org Graph began with the third of the Seven Questions vital for engagement, but it actually helps organizations get to yes on all of them.

To review, our work coaching organizations over the years (more than 200 by the time of this writing, big and small, in many fields) led us to the Seven Questions and Seven Promises critical to cultivating culture and engaged team members. These are the seven critical things that ICs want to say yes to and the seven fundamental Promises that a Cognizant organization must make:

The individual must say yes absolutely   The organization must say yes absolutely
1. Do I belong? (I fit the organization’s core values and have the skill needed for my Job and Positions). I Belong. 1. We have clearly defined our core values and the skills necessary for every Job and Position are clearly laid out.
2. Do I believe? (I am motivated by the mission and the strategic direction leadership is taking). I Believe. 2. We know our Why, our Focus, and have a clearly mapped out strategy with priorities determined, laid out and shared.
3. Am I Accountable? (I understand and embrace the Purpose of my Job and Positions, what I should be thinking and doing). Yes, I am Accountable. 3. Our Accountability and Responsibility structure is clear. See the Organizational Cognizance Model 14 Point Checklist.
4. Am I measured well? (I understand and embrace how and why I am measured, I know what a good job is and agree with the metrics). Yes, I understand and embrace how I am Measured. 4. We have metrics, Objectives and Key Results for team members that inform them, giving them the latitude to form strategies to achieve these OKRs.
5. Is my opinion is heard? (I understand and embrace how my organization listens and how I my opinion is heard.) Yes, I understand and embrace how I am heard. 5. We have clearly mapped out and defined the communication channels we use to listen and communicate – our meetings, mentoring, etc. – build trust, spur debate and help our ICs grow.
6. Am I being developed? (I understand and embrace how my organization offers opportunities for development and I take an active role in my own development) Yes, I understand and embrace how I am developed. 6. We have clearly mapped out systematic development pathways for employees to participate in for their own development. This includes a combination of On-The-Job training, formal training, mentoring, coaching and accountability.
7. Do I have balance? (I understand and embrace what the organization’s definition of balance is from a work-life, health and compensation perspective.) Yes, I understand and embrace how my balance is maintained. 7. We have taken the time to clearly define and communicate what work-life balance is to this organization and have communicated it up front with everyone. We have clear paths for employees to follow to maintain health and wellness balance and our compensation structures are clear and out in the open for the ICs to consider.

If ICs can answer yes to all of these, you have Organizational Cognizance. The Org Graph, along with our Organizational Cognizance exercises, the Organizational Graph Worksheet, etc. are vital tools for getting there. We have already addressed the many ways that the Org Graph elicits a yes on the hinge question, “Am I Accountable?” How does it help with the others?


  1. Do I belong?

Questions one and two are the most foundational. If you’ve seen our Org Graph screenshots throughout the book, it should be apparent how the Organizational Cognizance Model helps answer the first of these, “Do I belong?” The IC can see on the Org Graph exactly what Skills her job Requires, as well as those Required for each of the Job’s Positions. That’s one arrow, or Edge, coming off our Skills Node. A second Edge, pointing in the other direction, shows what Skills the Person Has. If there are areas where the IC is falling short – the gap between what’s Required and what she Has – they’re easy to spot and work on. In a larger sense, seeing every connection the IC has – to colleagues, supervisors, Teams, Meetings, Workflows, Processes, etc. – demonstrates exactly where she fits, or belongs, and how this organization runs. If she can’t get on board with this structure or doesn’t like her place in it, determining that she doesn’t belong should be a quick process, which saves grief for both her and the organization. The other side of the “belong” coin is the core values fit, covered deeply in The Patient Organization.

  • Do I believe?

We have talked in depth about belief. This question is existential, since as I’ve said, an organization is really just a fiction, recreated every day by the ICs who believe in it. The main barrier to this all-important belief is ignorance. People simply don’t know, because they haven’t been told, what it is that they’re supposed to believe in. Poor communication can result in twenty people believing one thing, thirty another, and the remaining fifty yet another – in which case, you have three organizations, not one. The Org Graph lays out in the most concrete terms what you are being asked to believe in – from the overall organizational mission down to every last Workflow, Process, and Meeting. The organization’s CEO has a Purpose Statement in the Organizational Cognizance model, in the perfect world, an IC can access and read the CEO’s Purpose Statements and can see her Objectives creating clarity, openness and Cognizance.  Equally important, though absent from other models, Purpose Statements are written by ICs for every Position they own. As a result, they are Cognizant of the why, how, and what – to borrow Simon Sinek’s schema – from the macro view down to the micro. As I said in Chapter 1, belief demands Cognizance.

  • Am I Accountable?

We covered this thoroughly above. To recap, Self-Accountability – the only true kind – requires understanding clearly the Objectives and Key Results you’re aiming for and all of the moving parts that get you to them – the Meetings, Workflows, Processes, Systems, Entities, etc. The Org Graph brings a new level of transparency to all of these Nodes and Edges, putting ICs in control of their own work and performance.

  • Am I measured well?

The specifics of this Question vary from industry to industry, and I explore how to establish solid fair measures in depth in The Patient Organization. The common complaint about metrics across industries, though, is that they often seem unfair, leaving ICs feeling as if they’ve been set up to fail. By clearly detailing the Purpose, Objectives, and Key Results not just for every Job but for every Position that’s a FunctionOf a Job, the Org Graph makes ICs Cognizant of just how they will be measured from day one. Links to documents and webpages related to specific measures can be embedded right in the Objectives and Key Results Nodes for each Position, as can Rich-Text explanations of metrics. Further, the Graph demonstrates exactly who will Coach an IC for each Position and offer guidance as challenges arise. Because all Nodes and Edges are spelled out and the IC knows exactly where she fits, she understands that she is being measured within a system she fully grasps. Without the clarity of an Org Graph, the same IC at a typical organization can feel as if she’s being graded on how well she navigates a maze with blinders on. We suggest a one-on-one Seasonal Meeting (explored thoroughly in TPO), which we’ll talk about in our section on maintenance below, as a built-in opportunity to warn ICs if they’re falling short on metrics and to hear their opinions if measures seem flawed.

  • Is my opinion heard?

All communication channels are also spelled out in the Org Graph, from the Coach an IC turns to about the details of each Position to the Systems she InterfacesWith (including CRM software, project platforms, etc.) to the Meetings where she can express concerns, comments, and questions. The Org Graph reflects these channels, and is itself one of the chief ways that individuals are heard. The Cracking Eggs and Flower Power exercises and the Organizational Cognizance Position Capture Worksheet are a chance for everyone in the organization to talk about their Purpose, Positions, domain, authority, and capacity. From the CEO to the newest frontline IC, everyone maintains Nodes and Edges, informing everyone what his Job is, what he does, why, and how. Here, too, the one-on-one Seasonal Meeting is vital. It is a formal, programmed space set aside four times a year for ICs to meet with a Mentor and discuss, with the help of the Org Graph, their place within the organization, their goals, obstacles, performance, concerns about Positions and other Nodes, etc.

  • Am I being developed?

One way that the Org Graph helps ICs answer yes to this question is simply by spelling out the Mentors offering guidance on career paths. Big deal, you say? Well, yes, it actually is, especially since this connection is not on the old Org Chart (an IC’s boss frequently is not his or her Mentor) and is often not communicated effectively by organizations. Yes, being clear and current about this connection, or Edge, is a simple, painless way to boost engagement, lower turnover, and improve performance by highlighting an IC’s future within the organization. Why then do I encounter so many companies with no mechanism for making this clear and for keeping the connection up-to-date? The Org Graph makes MentoredBy one of the primary Edges, signaling that an IC’s future is as important to the organization as Objectives and Key Results. There are many other ways that the Org Graph helps ICs answer yes to this Question, but in the interests of space, I’ll just give a couple more examples. An IC who wants to move forward into a new Job within an organization can easily pull it up on the Org Graph, check out the Skills it Requires, and then compare that Node to her own Skills Node. She now knows what she must work on to advance to the new Job. From another angle, let’s say an Account Manager at an organization starts out at Level 1, then can move up to Account Manager 2, Account Manager 3, etc. The key difference is that an Account Manager 1 handles four Positions, an Account Manager 2 handles six, an Account Manager 3 handles eight, and so on. An Account Manager who wants to move up to the next level has a built-in roadmap for how to get there in the Org Graph, where the Positions that are a FunctionOf each job are listed.

  • Do I have balance?

The work that allows you to say yes to having a good work-life balance rests mostly with the IC. The Organizational Cognizance Model helps Individual Contributors here through our Flower Power exercise before they even fill out their Nodes on the Org Graph. As ICs in similar jobs do this exercise together (refer back to Chapter 3 if you need a refresher), issues of capacity will come to light. If things are slipping through the cracks, is it because a particular IC doesn’t understand his Positions, or doesn’t want to succeed in them, or doesn’t have the capacity for his current workload? The exhaustive inventory we do in this exercise often reveals structural problems affecting work-life balance and points to adjustments that get it back on track. Once the Org Graph is filled out, it also has the power to quickly and clearly illustrate the pressure points preventing a yes on balance. Frequently, a deeply engaged IC steps forward to pick up the slack when someone is let go, for example. In this case, a Position (sometimes several) gets linked to his Job on the Org Graph. That temporary fill-in can become a permanent burden, burning out a motivated IC who’s being forced to operate outside his or her domain and authority. The Org Graph acts as a check against this imbalance by highlighting temporary Positions (they can even be color-coded according to how urgently they need to be handed off as new ICs are hired). Similarly, old Positions that should be given up as an IC takes on new ones when he or she advances into a new Job have a tendency to linger. The Org Graph highlights the sticky Positions that upset work-life balance and need to go.