In his article for Computerworld, Paul Glen recounts that when most executives have told him that their operations require more accountability what they are really saying is that they need someone to blame.

“The sentence that usually follows implies that without accountability, no one will do what it takes to meet deadlines, deliver quality products or succeed in general,” writes Glen. “Just below the surface, the assumption behind this thinking is that fear of blame — or at least fear of the consequences associated with blame — is an effective motivator.”

Glen, along with many others, contends that it is not, particularly if your organization relies on creativity and the independent application of knowledge, or better yet, empowerment. Glen summed it up by saying, “If there’s no clear accountability (and even if there is), you can blame anyone for problems. But fear of being the whipping boy isn’t going to help you build a productive, learning organization.”

 In Chaco Canyon Consulting’s Publication Point Lookout, Rick Brenner writes that the word accountability is widely misused. He says accountability centers around knowing what happened and how to fix it, whereas blame means “deserving of censure, discipline, or penalty.” Brenner goes on to define the four differences between accountability and blame:

Learning vs. punishment

Understanding how the failure happened helps us prevent similar failures. Because those accountable often have useful information, we value their participation in organizational learning. If blame is the goal, instead of real organizational learning, activity usually stops after we’ve found the culprit or culprits. Once we tag them, their only role is to receive punishment.

Incidence of fear

If we really are seeking those accountable, fear isn’t a factor. Those accountable have nothing to fear unless actual negligence or corruption is involved, and then the failure isn’t the issue.

Organizational chart altitude distribution

Those with responsibility are accountable, and those with the most responsibility are high up on the chart. When we find those accountable at many levels of the chart, we’re more likely to be assigning accountability; when we find those accountable concentrated at the bottom of the chart, chances are that we’re assigning blame.

Acknowledging interdependence

Nearly everything we do is a group effort; rarely is only one person — or even one team — fully responsible for any action or decision. If we truly seek to find those accountable, the result is probably a list — sometimes a long list. If we seek to blame, usually one person is enough to feed the beast.

That being said, this month’s Quality asks, “Who’s the Keeper of GD&T Data?” As author Nick Merrell writes, the answer depends on many variables. Check out Nick’s article and join the discussion.
As always, enjoy and thanks for reading!