Do We Need To Hold People Accountable?

One of the tools the Society of Human Resources (SHRM) is using is social media conversations about workplace issues such as workplace culture.  It can be a great tool for people to share thoughts and ideas but it also brings out some of the same old, tired ideas and actions that don’t bring about real culture change.   One of those old and tired ideas that appears regularly by participants is the idea of holding people accountable.

Holding people accountable is related to that traditional approach of focusing on the numbers to achieve results and when that doesn’t happen, somebody gets blamed instead of looking at what really occurred so that we can resolve the issue.

Some may think holding people accountable is necessary to take a tough stance and some may think it’s also quicker than taking the time to actually problem solve. But if the problem keeps re-occurring, the problem hasn’t been resolved and placing blame did nothing but create bad relations and a threatening work environment.  In other words, if somebody didn’t do what was expected, there are consequences which may or may not be known and that just becomes the threat.

The other thing about placing blame is people usually aren’t the cause.  It could have been the fault of the system.  Quality expert, W. Edwards Deming, said most of the time it’s not people that contribute to the problem but the fault of the system.   A good rule of thumb to determine cause is to ask “why” five times.  By the fifth “why”, the root of the problem should be determined.

There may be times when someone doesn’t do what they’re supposed to and that’s an entirely different situation and may require a reprimand but if something wasn’t done as it was intended, it also could be a communication problem.  Maybe the expectations weren’t clearly defined or it was assumed the person would know what to do.  The problem with assuming, though,  is no two people think exactly alike.  Everybody has a different way of looking at things based on experiences, gender, age and other variables and that is something we want especially in the workplace.  We need those different perspectives so new ideas or new ways can happen.  Misunderstandings happen but we can do things to prevent them, too.

In one of the SHRM conversations, somebody said it’s important to hold people accountable for safety concerns.  That may be true but greater success can happen with safety or any other workplace area by involving and including people in day-to-day decisions instead of holding them accountable.  It will create a much better work environment and will produce even better number results than what was originally sought.  This has been proven over and over.  We’ve blogged several times about the great results involving employees particularly with safety can provide.

It’s great SHRM is pushing for workplaces to improve their cultures and these conversations from people that want to hold people accountable demonstrate the need for culture to change.  This knee-jerk reaction only reduces the level of trust and does nothing to create a high-performance workplace.  High-performance workplaces consist of supporting and empowering leaders.  They include workers in decision-making and use coaching skills to help guide them. Leaders encourage change and are willing to take risks for new and different ways of doing.  Employees are seen as being valued instead of being held accountable and will provide better results.   That’s how supervisors and managers can change workplace culture.  Maybe it’s time to hold them accountable for making the change!

About CALMC Blog

Columbus Area Labor-Management Committee is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to involving employers and employees to preserve jobs, resolve workplace issues, and promote labor-management cooperation. Visit our website at
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