All leaders want to build and foster a high performance organisation. We expect people, at all levels, to be accountable for their actions. We want them to fulfil their responsibilities and care about outcomes. In short, we want them to do their best for customers and the organisation. But what happens when things go wrong? Does being accountable mean taking the blame? Blame has an emotive subject at the best of times, so let's step back before we talk about blame.
When something goes wrong what is most important? Firstly, the organisation needs to minimise the impact of what has happened and put things right. If customers are affected they come first. Quick corrective action involves speedily identifying the problem in the first place and then fixing it as soon as possible. In most cases, any delay usually makes the impact of problems far worse. So leaders need to encourage people to put their hands up when something goes wrong. Owning up to a problem is the fastest route to fixing it.
Now we all know that a culture of blame does not encourage people to own up to problems - so that needs to be avoided at all costs. But does a 'blame free' culture reduce accountability. The answer is 'no', but only if you counter-balance a blame free culture with a 'performance management culture'.
We also need to remember that although individuals play a part in causing problems, there are also other factors at work. Maybe processes are poorly designed. Maybe systems need improving. So we need to take care not to blame people without considering the need to learn from what goes wrong and improve the infrastructure that we leaders are responsible for.
So, this is how I explain my approach to team members:
1. If something goes wrong, tell me as soon as you are aware of the problem. Problems need to be fixed quickly and effectively. You need to be a part of fixing problems and I will view your performance positively if you can demonstrate success in identifying problems and resolving them.
2. Hiding problems will negatively impact my evaluation of your performance.
3. If one thing goes wrong that does not make you a low performer. Bad things can happen to the best of us. But over the longer term, continued problems will likely negatively impact the evaluation of your performance.
In other words I do not blame people for individual events if they own up and help to fix things, but I do let them know that, over the long term, good performance matters.