What’s the difference? Accountability vs Blame
Published by HOPLAB by Southpac International
Over the years, the line between accountability and blame has become blurred. Mistakenly, the two terms are often used interchangeably. As a result, the actions and behaviours of accountability now look suspiciously similar to that of blame. Sadly, phrases like “They must be made accountable!” are becoming all too common.
Yet, accountability can – and should – look very different to blame. Blame is defined as “to find fault” (1). Blame can be very obvious (cue finger pointing and shouting). But typically blame in the workplace is subtle. For example, being sent home after an event, drug tested, and use of phrases such as ‘it was down to human error’. Regardless of the way it is carried out, blame is harmful. Where there is blame, there is no learning. This might be acceptable in low-risk, insignificant scenarios, but it has detrimental consequences in safety-critical or high-risk environments.
Accountability on the other hand is described as “the willingness to accept responsibility, or to account for ones actions” (2). How often are employees ‘willing’ to give their account of an event? Imagine a workplace where employees are open and honest about how and why an event occurred. Imagine the richness of information and learning we could get from events or near misses – gaining knowledge to enhance organisational safety, with the potential to save future lives.
Change is needed
Firstly, We need to get better at listening and learning from our frontline workers. These are the ones closest to the work. In reality, the only outcome of blame is giving us someone to point the finger at. As a result, promoting a culture of coverups along the way.
In truth, People want to be accountable for their actions – actions which are usually carried out with good intent. Accountability gives people a voice, enabling essential information to be shared.
Building a culture of accountability is a core component of HOP. The HOP Principle: Blame fixes nothing is explored in-depth in our 1 Day HOP Fundamentals training. While it is easy to say “We won’t blame” or have a blame culture, it is harder to do. Understanding the difference between blame and accountability is an important first step.
1, 2: Merriam-Webster definition