“Every time a company triples in size, everything breaks,” said Rakuten’s CEO Mikitani, who grew his business from 0 to 12,000 employees. When the company goes from 1 to 3 employees, then to 10, then to 30, then to 100, etc., everything stops working as it should. “And by everything, I mean everything!” This includes decision-making, payroll, business systems, communication, the org chart,…

What is wrong with your decision-making?

As your company grows, decision-making becomes more complex and slower: it worked great when the team was smaller, but the company outgrows it at some point. This leads to confusion, frustration, and a sense of growing red tape among your team members – and ultimately slows down your growth.

This is a common issue that many companies face as they scale up. If they don’t adjust their management approach and decision-making to their larger size, they get stuck in their growth. To avoid this, regularly adjust decision-making. In this article we discuss:

  • Which decisions you should make as the CEO.
  • How to define people’s role in decision-making.

From making every decision to making unpopular decisions

Your role as the CEO evolves over time. When the company is in its infancy, the founder makes virtually every decision. Making bad calls is rarely a major issue, because the cost of changing your mind is fairly limited.

As the company grows and more team members are impacted, the cost of changing decisions increases. At the same time a sneaky trend sets in as you delegate more decisions to more people: “The more managers sitting in a room with strong opinions and good arguments, the more likely you are to come up with an uninspired compromise. Everyone might be happy, but uninspired compromises tend to be conservative by nature,” shared HubSpot’s CEO as he was reflecting on the evolution of decision-making in the first 10 years of HubSpot. “Before you know it you are making the same decisions your competitors are making, you’re building the same product your competitors are building, and you and your competitors have the same mediocre results.”

As the CEO your role evolves over time: as your company grows you have to identify which decisions are absolutely critical for the direction of the company, and make the right decisions – not the popular ones. But you can only do this if you create more time for yourself, among others by letting go of some decisions, and being crystal-clear about who plays which role in decision-making.

Who does what in strategic decisions?

I like using the RAIDe framework to clarify decision-making, which is inspired by the 2006 Harvard Business Review article “Who has the D?” RAIDe clarifies who plays which role in decision-making and how these roles interact with each other. It defines 5 key roles for each strategic decision – some roles can be performed by the same person. RAIDe stands for:

  • Recommend: the person who makes a proposal on the decision. They gather the necessary data, insights, and input. They do 80% of the decision-making work – but don’t make the decision.
  • Accept: person with a veto right, typically the CEO. They can only say “yes” or “no,” not “yes but” – otherwise this person becomes the decision-maker. They should use their veto right parsimoniously. The Decider must inform them of the decision.
  • Input: A person who provides relevant facts and insights. The Recommender can decide not to take this input into account but they must listen to each of the Input-givers.
  • Decide: This is the decision-maker, the only person accountable for making the call.
  • Execute: the person accountable for implementing the decision.

Clarifying who plays which role in each decision can remove a lot of tension and frustration in a team. I have seen this model be extremely useful with my clients; for instance:

  • To help a CEO clarify to his team for which decisions he wants to be only informed, for which ones he wants to give Input, and for which ones he wants to Decide.
  • To help a leadership team define who will make tough calls – when they don’t agree as a team. Who on the leadership team decides on price increases? Who sets the priorities for new product development? Who decides when someone should get fired? If you don’t formalize it, the unspoken assumption is often that the CEO will make all these calls.

Practically speaking: what can you start doing today?

  1. Take 15 minutes to make the list of the top 20 to 30 most impactful decisions that your company makes, eg:
    • Who defines the pricing strategy?
    • Who sets the prices within the confines of the pricing strategy?
    • Who decides on the strategic goals and company-wide priorities?
    • Who decides on how many people can be hired for which positions?
    • Who decides to hire a specific candidate?
    • Who decides on IT priorities and new product development?
    • Who decides on the criteria to accept/reject a new client?
  2. Quickly identify who has the D on each of these decisions. How many times does your name come up on the list? For which decision(s) could it be someone else, with you as Input or Accept? For which decision(s) can only you make the call, because there is a chance of unpopular decisions?
  3. Ask your leadership team to also identify who has the D on each of these top 20-30 decisions. Often you will notice that you are not completely aligned as a team on who makes which calls – if that is the case, this is a great opportunity for clarification.
  4. Together with your leadership team: agree on who plays which role for each of the top 20-30 decisions.

Regularly adjusting your decision-making as your company grows is necessary to avoid getting stuck. Implementing the RAIDe framework and reflecting on your evolving role as the CEO will help you grow faster and with less pain.

I work with growth-minded CEOs who are frustrated by the way their business is growing. Often they spend their days fighting fires – typically a sign that their company has outgrown their management approach – and their team is not aligned on what they can decide, creating a huge bottleneck for the CEO. In short, they feel stuck. I know the feeling: I have been in their shoes when I was running a business that we turned around from sales decline to double-digit business growth.

As a business coach my passion is to help leadership teams define their actionable business growth strategy, create a culture of accountability and effective strategy execution, and become better leaders – so they can grow faster and with less pain.

If you too want to grow faster and with less pain, contact me now: Xavier@AmbroseGrowth.com.


“My company has lots of potential, but I just feel my employees are not engaged. If I don’t push, nothing seems to happen. I’m working night and day and we’re still missing 40% of our targets. I once dreamed of being a firefighter, I guess that dream has come true. All I do is put out fires, I have no time to focus on my business.”

Sound familiar? CEOs and leadership teams can change this picture, it’s all about accountability. Creating a fierce culture of accountability starts with the CEO and leadership team.

Why is accountability important?

Accountability is about owning a problem. You want employees to behave as if they own the piece of business that they are running. When you are accountable for a specific result, you will do whatever it takes to achieve it – and you would like your team to perform this way as well.

Carlos Brito, the CEO of brewing company AB Inbev, summarizes his views on accountability in these words: “We always compare that to a rental car: you drive a rental car in a different way than your own car. With a rental car someone else will live with the consequences of your driving. With your car, you know that it will be yours the next days, months, and years, and you know that you will be living with the consequences of your driving. Employees who behave like owners are here for the long term, and they will live with the consequences of their decisions – good or bad – and that builds a great company.”

Why am I having accountability issues?

Accountability issues are very common among growing companies. When you founded your company, you were personally accountable for everything. As your company grew you started delegating the responsibilities for some results – e.g. production, customer service, or sales. However, you may not have created the communication channels required to hold your teams accountable. Why would you? You didn’t need any of this yourself, and yet you grew your business successfully. Why would these smart managers need anything different?

For one, your employees are not you. If they were, they would not be working for you: they would start their own business. Second, your company is now more complex than we you started: it has more people involved, and all these people now need to be on the same page. Third, when you started your company with a few employees, you could be on top of each of them and had short communication lines: you knew what everybody was doing, all the time. Now that your company has more employees it is impossible for you to manage them the same way: this would soak up all your time.  This is exactly why you need to put a system in place that will achieve what you want (ie create accountability), without you spending all your time on it.

In the book “Creating a Culture of Accountability” Gravitas Impact business coach Mark Green describes ways to increase your team’s accountability. This article outlines five of them

1. Lead by example

Like many aspects related to company culture, accountability starts with you and your leadership team. In order to create a culture of accountability you have to model the behaviors that you want to see in your organization. When it comes to accountability the rule is simple: when you make a commitment as a leader, you have to keep it. If you don’t, why should anyone else be interested in doing so? You can’t complain that employees miss their deadlines if you are occasionally late as well. As a CEO “all eyes and ears within your business are focused on you. What you say and what you do are invisibly and constantly observed, scrutinized and evaluated as your managers and employees are looking for clues as to how they should behave,” explains Mark Green.

Leading by example is not only about you sticking to your commitments, but also about your expectations from your team – and your behavior when your managers don’t meet your expectations. If your team members notice that there are no consequences for missing targets, why would they try their best? Similarly, if you tolerate one of your team members to produce poor results, why would other team members feel pressured to produce quality? When you hold your team to a higher standards, you are sending a strong signal across the organization.

2. Have the right people on the right seat

Without the right people on the right seat, nothing of what you can do will significantly increase accountability. The key question is: would you enthusiastically rehire everybody on your team? I advise my clients to assess employees on two dimensions; performance and adherence to company values. You will find more information on how to use this tool in this article.

Once you have the right people on your team you need to clarify their area of accountability. This is less obvious than it looks. The key question is: Who is accountable for each of the key functions in your company? As Mark Green explains “the exercise often reveals that there isn’t a single individual accountable for each function. When more than one person is “accountable”, nobody is accountable. It is easy to make assumptions that things will get done, but when there is not a designated person to account for a particular result, chances are, it is not going to happen. In this kind of environment, it is also easy to point fingers – Bob thought Mary would handle it, and vice versa. Other times, you’ll discover that a particular role hasn’t been filled by anyone at all; it is just implied that it will somehow be handled. Spoiler alert: it doesn’t!”

3. Clarify priorities

“The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing,” wrote best-selling author Stephen Covey. “Individuals or organizations with too many priorities have no priorities and risk spinning their wheels and accomplishing nothing of significance,” says Verne Harnish in his book “Scaling Up.” Focus on a small number of priorities that will have the biggest impact on your goals, make sure that everyone on your leadership team is aligned on them – and communicate them broadly.

When employees understand where your organization is going and which role they play in it, they work less selfishly and they tend to make better business decisions on behalf of the company – simply because they can see the impact of their decisions and how they impact overall results.

4. Define clear action plans and metrics

Once you have identified who on the leadership team is accountable for each function and what your top priorities are, the next step is for each of your leaders to answer Mark Green’s key question: “What are the 3 most important results the company expects you deliver in exchange for paying your salary – and how should these results be measured? This step determines the results and metrics for each of your leadership functions. As we all know, you can’t manage what you don’t measure. If you want to increase the speed and quality of a particular service you offer, you should establish specific metrics to gauge those factors and identify metrics and targets for them. You may determine if you reach or surpass a target for three months in a row, you have achieved that objective.” Pick specific metrics, make sure that your leadership team is on the same page and that everybody aims for the clearly defined results – so that the rest of your organization can follow your lead.

Similarly, once you have defined top quarterly priorities, the question becomes: what do you and your team need to do in each of the next 13 weeks in order to achieve priorities? There are only 13 weeks in a quarter – if you do NOT view your quarter as a 13-week race, you will lose weeks and time which you will NOT get back. A weekly plan clarifies what can be expected every week, in order to meet expectations at the end of the quarter. It also makes it much easier for your leadership team to hold people accountable to their own 13-week plan.

5. Establish a metronome-like meeting rhythm

Just as a metronome calls time and sets tempo in a musical performance, so do a small set of consistently executed meetings to hold you and your team accountable, and keep everyone on the same page. The essential regular meetings are:

  • Daily huddles (no more than 10 to 15 minutes) to evaluate progress on the very short-term priorities and identify any blocking issues.
  • Weekly huddles (no more than 90 minutes) to review the status of the 13-week plan and course-correct if needed.
  • Monthly and quarterly meetings to review progress on the priorities, take corrective actions when needed, and identify new priorities for the upcoming quarter.

I often notice that the most impactful meetings to drive accountability are the daily and weekly huddles: they create peer pressure and hence take the heat off your shoulders as the leader. They also improve communication: You won’t need to have the same water-cooler conversation three of four times, as is the case when you rely on chance hallway meetings for communication. And finally they enable collective intelligence to solve problems.


In the end, how much difference do these tools make on accountability? Pretty big, as this example from another Gravitas Impact business coach, Glen Dall, demonstrates in Mark Green’s book “Creating a Culture of Accountability”: “I worked with the CEO of a multi-location dental practice. The CEO had started with one practice that they grew very successfully – and then began expanding. At one point employee turnover rates increased to 200%. The leadership team would plan and set goals, but frequently failed to achieve them. The growth rate was declining. The CEO felt over-extended, frustrated and stressed.”

With the leadership team Glen Dall leveraged these tools to have the right people on the right seat, set priorities and targets, as well as establish a proven system to follow up on them. The result? “After our first 6 months of working together, the CEO told me, “You should be proud of how far you’ve brought the team. I feel that we have accomplished more in the past 6 months than we were able in the last 7 years.” That is the power of accountability.”

As a business growth coach, I work with founders of mid-market companies who are frustrated because their business is not growing the way they want; my passion is to help them identify and remove the growth roadblocks they have been hitting so they can grow faster and with less pain. Often their roadblocks include a lack of accountability: they have no system in place to regularly follow up on their team’s many commitments, or their teams don’t have clear priorities and metrics. I would like to learn about your growth roadblocks; contact me to discuss at Xavier@AmbroseGrowth.com.

What about you? How accountable is your team? How has Covid impacted accountability? Over the past couple of years, how many quarters has your company reached and missed their targets? What were the consequences of hitting targets, and what were the consequences of missing them? Do you have clear metrics and regular meetings in place to follow up on each of your priorities?

Let me know your thoughts in the comments section.