Are you managing the tightrope between accountability and blame? 37% of leaders don't think it's important to hold an individual to account when things go wrong, while 9% think blaming people is an effective strategy for dealing with poor performance.  How do you drive accountability while avoiding blame, and the risks associated with this?

More leaders today think that holding individuals to account is important (63% vs 51% in 2018)*.

While accountability is important it can easily tip over into blame, with 9% of leaders still believing that making an example of someone is a way to raise standards*.

So, how can you manage accountability and blame? What’s the difference and how do you get it right?

  • Accountability is about being responsible for results, good and bad. This requires a culture that enables people to be open when things go wrong, knowing that they won’t be unfairly treated, which increases the likelihood of learning and improving.
  • Blame is about allocating fault. It is purely backwards looking and often leads to people covering up mistakes or disappointing outcomes, which means there is less chance of learning.

One key approach is to focus on understanding why things go wrong.

Amy Edmondson’s continuum reflects situations where negative outcomes are avoidable versus unavoidable. It highlights different reasons for why things go wrong – from individual deviance or lack of training, to process issues or the complexity of a task or situation**.

Typically, as few as 2% of errors are due to deviance (i.e. ‘blameworthy’), yet 70-90% of errors are blamed on people**, suggesting other factors and complexities are often ignored.

When things go wrong, using this continuum could help pinpoint some of the reasons behind an error or unsuccessful outcome, to capture learnings and take appropriate steps to avoid the same happening again.

Find out how we can help create a culture of accountability not blame.


* Data based on responses gathered through the growth mindset psychometric, Mindset Advantage, from thousands of leaders and hundreds of organisations globally over a period of 7 years.

** Edmondson (2011). Strategies for Learning from Failure.