Stop the Finger Pointing

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blame200There is something about the topic of accountability, blame and finger-pointing that frequently connects with people’s experience in the workplace and in life.

I’m not surprised. I have often quoted a University of Florida study which indicated, among other things that supervisors often blame their direct reports for mistakes that they, the supervisor, have made. In my personal experience I am often told that supervisors fail to communicate with their staff, except when something goes wrong and then there is the assumption that the worker did something wrong; somehow “screwed up.” This pattern quickly becomes a major source of job dissatisfaction and contributes to low job motivation and eventually, turnover.

As a society, we seem to have a problem accepting personal responsibility. We are very quick to blame and punish…as long as it’s someone else that is drawing the short straw. So, it’s not a stretch to think that we bring this cultural feature into our social agencies along with the attendant dysfunction.

Has finger-pointing and the “blame game” become a part of the culture at your place and would you like to do something about it? Well here’s a few suggestions. Perhaps they might be discussed at a coming staff meeting and a few of you could develop an “accountability action plan.”

1. Make sure you are hiring persons who are willing to take responsibility for their own messes. Carol Quinn, an international expert on hiring high performers refers to these types as having an “internal locus of control” and her Motivation Based Interviewing process is really excellent at identifying these individuals.

2. When something goes wrong, don’t ask, “what did you do?” or “why did you do that?” Instead, ask “what happened?” It’s a much easier question to answer truthfully. This is so important because unless you know quickly what happened, it is likely to happen again before you get a chance to solve the problem.

3. Throughout the organization, make it easy to tell the truth. Reward the truth, don’t punish it. Model truth-telling yourself; acknowledge the areas of your work that need to be improved.

4. Eliminate or reduce the distortion which the presence of fear will interject into any discussion. Often a mistake results when people don’t know the proper procedure and are afraid to admit their ignorance. Make the emphasis on problem solution and not criticism or blame.

5. Look for opportunities to train. Make learning a part of the culture of your organization. Most mistakes can be eliminated through repeated training. Telling someone how to do something once is not training. Advertisers try to get their message to us 7 times before it has a chance to impact our purchasing behavior. Staff training is no different.

6. Bring everyone on board with the mission of the agency. Make sure everyone, top to bottom, understands why what they do is so critically important to the agency being a success. This is the kind of awareness that encourages people to be focused, energetic and accountable.

A lack of accountability is expensive. Wastes time. Increases job stress. Encourages people to be territorial. Undermines communication. Do what you can to develop an organization with a high degree of accountability; your clients will thank you.

We at Workforce Performance Group are experts at improving day to day productivity at non-profit agencies. Our work focuses on the work of front line supervisors and middle managers. We coach, train and support. Find out more by subscribing to our FREE weekly newsletter, The Mentor. Every issue addresses an issue of importance to non-profit leaders.

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