The blame game – does your organisation suffer from ownership issues?

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So whose fault is it anyway? Move away from blame to a culture of ownership…


The most frequent complaint I hear from organisations is that staff do not take ownership and accountability or responsibility. So what does this actually mean?

Let’s take a simple example, if we are late for a meeting, we will often trot out the excuse, “the traffic was awful”, or “my last meeting overran”. This is an everyday example of not taking responsibility for our actions, and blaming external circumstance. It’s as if we have no control over our destiny – we are just victims of circumstance.

This is what co-author of The Oz Principle, Tom Smith labels, “being below the line”- blaming circumstances, making excuses, or just denying any short-comings. In short, Blame, Excuses, Denial.

Above and Below the Line

So what would an “above the line” response be? Simple, “I didn’t leave early enough”, or “I failed to communicate that I had another meeting to get to”

Lets take another example, imagine you are managing a project and a supplier lets you down which results in the overall project being delayed, and you have an unhappy boss to do some explaining to.

A “below the line” response would be “the supplier let me down” [Blame]. Being above the line would require a “buck stops with me” mindset, and this in turn would require us to examine what we could do in future to avoid a similar incident, for example:

  • Could we have used a better method of selecting a supplier?
  • Did we have a sufficiently robust contingency plan?
  • How about better on-going communications with the supplier to flag up any issues earlier?

As leaders, we will create more of a learning organisation with an “above the line” mindset. To encourage such behaviours in our staff will require us to lay off the blame game when mistakes are made, and allow staff to come to their own conclusions about what they can do better next time.

Perhaps the real definition of that over-used word “empowerment” is promoting a culture of ownership, accountability and responsibility. So where do we start? Simple. Lead by Example!

Next time you are late for a meeting, how about saying “sorry, I didn’t leave early enough” rather than “sorry, awful traffic”? Unnerving, perhaps, but what message would this send to your staff about taking responsibility for their actions rather than making trite excuses or blaming others?

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