Accountability Without Blame

Often, finding the source of a problem means finding who to blame. It turns into “who was in charge” and then throwing colleagues under the bus. You work hard to create efficiency, but problems make meetings into a courtroom. Changing the company culture will not be a quick fix. Personal accountability is about accepting, reflecting, and learning.

Error is human 

When more responsibility equals more blame, it deters improvement. Problems are naturally going to happen. Constantly wanting to avoid them will only increase stress. The more stressed your colleagues become, the more likely mistakes occur. Embracing problems as learning opportunities is a part of accountability.

Breaking the Cycle 

Blame focuses on the interpersonal aspect of the problem. Someone forgot to carry the one when adding up accounts, so it throws off the system. Blame says, “find that one person who should feel ashamed and punished.” Accountability says, “what can we do to prevent it from happening again.” Acknowledging the cycle that blame creates better equips you to handle situations. 

The cycle begins with a mistake. The error occurs, and people start pointing fingers to take the focus off them. Then, it is covered up when someone takes the fall, lies, or claims it on a machine. Who did what is all mixed up, and now meetings are focused on damage control to recover the lost time. Thus, it exaggerates the punishment for the problem. 

Blame focuses on delivering punishment, which hides the larger issues. The person who forgot to carry the one may skip the checker because it was a high-priority account. They had three other high-priority items on their back and wanted to get one out of the way. If management focuses on blame instead of accountability, they would not solve the real problem. 

Breaking this cycle means changing your end goal. Blame results in repercussions like shame, fear, anxiety, and devaluing individuals. Accountability focuses on learning. It wants people to grow and feel supported.

Changing the Narrative

Personal accountability takes time to cultivate and become comfortable using in everyday life. The more you reflect on your company culture, the easier it will be to spot blame over accountability. Consider some of the following steps as guidelines for creating accountable conversations.

1. Acknowledge assumptions or expectations

Blame can steam from miscommunication. Think of it as if you are all playing volleyball, and you see the ball coming into your side of the court. Everyone assumes someone else will deal with it. The ball hits the ground because no one vocalizes their intent. Acknowledging the assumptions and expectations we have for each other mitigates pointing fingers.

2. Affirm the conversation is not about punishment

Whether people know it or not, stating the conversation is not about punishment relieves stress. Covering-up mistakes steam from anxiety. If your team knows it is about helping each other, they will not shy away from admitting when things go wrong.

3. Everyone has their own outside stressors

The more questions you ask, the bigger the picture you will see. Everyone has their own outside stressors that influence their work. Root causes are not surface-level, so dig deep.

4. Reflect on the actions taken

What could I have done differently? That question should be at the top of your list. You can not fix something if you do not know where it went wrong. Reflecting on your actions is a part of improving and becoming accountable.

5. Identify what you can control

Singular events do not always cause mistakes. Identify what you control in the situation and what you can not. This way, no one is blaming themselves for a problem they could never avoid. 

6. Own your mistakes

Information becomes scrambled when everyone has a different story about what went wrong. Taking ownership of your actions directly cuts through the noise of who did what. This step in accountability may take the longest to become comfortable with as no one wants to admit when they are wrong. Yet, turning a weakness into a strength is a powerful tool. 

7. Find a resolution

Resolving issues can be a collaborative effort. New possibilities and improved quality come from teamwork. Everyone has a part they play in the company. Supporting someone’s weakness is a way to collaborate more and find new mentorship opportunities. 

On your path to becoming more accountable? 

Get support from professional women all around the globe with experience in changing the narrative. IAW’s community wants to help you at any stage to achieve your dreams. Sometimes working towards your goals means having people cheer you on. IAW members can opt-in for weekly accountability check-ins through their profile! 

Accessibility Toolbar