Trying to remain an asset to an organisation, to retain employment, has surely become the number one priority. Although this can generally have a positive effect on employees, it can at times trigger incorrect actions. When something goes wrong in an organisation, the knee jerk reaction may be to find someone to blame. Being on the other end of that blame is not pleasant. In trying to absolve yourself from the situation, it may lead to finger pointing on your part as well. While all of this may eventually result in the problem being solved, the person receiving the blame, may react negatively to that situation and never learn from the experience.
Blame does not create an environment of understanding regarding what went wrong, how it went wrong, nor the lessons to be learnt from that situation. In fact, it leads to individuals hiding errors and likely not taking accountability. Yes, Accountability; to be accounted on or reckoned on. To blame is “to find fault with, to censure, revile, reproach.”
When an organisation focuses on accountability it recognises that people make mistakes or fall short somewhere or in some way and then looks at helping them and the organization to recover from such mistakes. This in turn creates an environment of learning and growth for the person in their capacity as an employee and as an individual.
Blame on the other hand, does the exact opposite. Individuals who feel cornered or prosecuted, are more likely to conceal any and all mistakes or errors made, and in turn, never learn anything nor grow from the experience. Fear would be at the forefront of this response.
How do you encourage accountability?
The different ways that management/leadership talks to, assess and affirms the employee’s work and contributions are called the accountability processes. According to the author of “Rising to power”, Ron Carucci, there are 3 major shifts leaders can make to ensure that an experience dignifies and challenges the employee, without making them feel demeaned or small:
It is extremely important for leaders to know the weight of their judgement. When they create an environment where employees can make their best contributions, the result is a deeper connection that occurs between management and the direct report. This leads to an increase to the quality of feedback and learning. When employees believe that management is really interested in their success, they tend to let their guard down and become more open and honest about any shortcomings they may have and thus more open to learning.
Accountability systems need to be fair in order to enable employees to be transparent about possible errors and mistakes. However, acting fairly towards employees, does not mean “sameness” across the board. This entails ensuring that there is a level playing field within a team and that no one person is subject to higher expectations than others.
Corporates and in particular, the leadership structures, often reiterate how employees are required to learn from their mistakes. However, when an error occurs, they are often quick to the trigger with laying the blame and at times, quick to find the “sacrificial lamb.” To treat mistakes restoratively, leaders need grace, humility and patience.
It is important to note that accountability applies both ways, as much as the employee is required to be accountable, a similar level of accountability is required from the leadership structure. This requires management and leaders to embark on a self-introspection exercise in order to determine whether:
In order to be of value, the self-introspection needs to be accompanied by the relevant actions which are supportive of accountability on the part of management. For the purposes of restoration, this action should not start and end at management level; but rather, the employee/s should also be on the receiving end of their leader’s accountability.
It is often said that, we learn more from the actions of our leaders than from what they say, in the case of restoration, actions really do speak louder than words.
Realising the impact of the blame game on the organisation will serve the organisation well going forward. Those who conceal their errors and are too afraid to come forward, may harm the bottom-line and even the reputation of the organisation. When employees believe that the organisation is not interested in their success, they may inadvertently reciprocate.
Fostering a culture of accountability, however, does not mean that the organisation will be required to “gloss over” errors and unacceptable actions all in the name of not finding fault with employees who do wrong or who do not meet the performance requirements. In the process of fostering accountability, it is vital for all parties to be aware that taking accountability for one’s actions, in no way absolves them from the effects or penalties resulting from their actions. However, this will be done in a fair, equitable and transparent manner.
Ultimately leaders and managers set the tone of the corporate culture, if they are interested in a culture of accountability, they need to be the starting point and lead by example.