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Can There Be Negative Accountability?

By Darren Finkelstein
By Darren Finkelstein

The Accountability Guy®

Home » Accountability at work » Can There Be Negative Accountability?
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Whether it’s about increasing employee happiness or improving the overall performance of your company, accountability takes center stage. However, the people’s perception of accountability is divided into two categories. Some individuals find it highly rewarding, while others consider it a trait to blame for mistakes.

Is it even correct? Can there exist a negative form of accountability?

The answer isn’t as simple as a Yes or No. There can exist negative accountability when the outcomes are viewed in the light of failure or success. Even though it’s crucial for companies to hold people accountable for different jobs, offensively viewing the trait can create chaos.

If you can’t put the finger on how negative accountability turns an organizational culture chaotic, don’t stop reading yet!

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Over-Clinginess to Failure

Granted, accountability is an empowering feature to include in a company’s values list. However, using the attribute to put the gun on someone’s shoulder before every office meeting is a disheartening move. It breeds fear amongst your teammates and closes the door to learning from the respective failure.

Basically, when an organization fixates on the negative outcome, they foster the growth of a biased culture against accountability. Naturally, this culture in a company shifts the behavior of employees from accepting to dismissive, which can prove fatal for growth.

Losing the purpose of Accountability

Accountability is a fantastic trait to see the need for a change, become a part of its transition, and own its outcome. Unfortunately, some organizations attach too much reliance on the letter of the word instead of following its spirit.

So, when it comes to holding an employee accountable, they follow through on the question, “Who did this wrong?” instead of “Who took up this initiative?”

The differences are subtle but impactful. The latter question is seeking an individual to put the blame on, while the former wants to fill the gap between effort and success. So, when you think about fulfilling the purpose of accountability, it is inclusive growth that asking the question, “Who took up this initiative?”  can achieve.

Enforcing a narrow version of 'Correct’

When accountability is used as a manipulative mechanism of putting liability, it turns the work culture hostile.

Not only does it censors one’s approach to executing a task, but it also imposes a strict definition of what looks correct. Such a strategy kills the zeal of employees to perform and creates a no-innovation mindset in the workplace.

This offensive mindset plays with the self-worth and potential of the employees instead of giving them motivating support. 

Catering to too many opinions

The phrase “Too many cooks spoil the broth” sounds apt to elucidate negative accountability. Even if you want your employees to own their work, your criticisms should have a proper backing with reasons instead of multiple opinions.

Usually, companies put the initiative-taker in the place of a sacrificial lamb to appease the wrath of stakeholders and the public. These organizations go wrong in understanding that the presented opinions are derived through a half-available knowledge base. That’s why they shouldn’t form criteria to gauge the efforts of an individual or a team.

No understanding of 'Why' and 'How'

From replicating a success model to turning a problem around, accountability requires purposeful responses in a company. In an attempt to praise or inform your employees, a responsible leader strives to know the process behind the outcome. This is precisely what separates positive accountability from a toxic one.

Doing so is essential because it helps you understand the importance of the procedure and offers an insight into the reasons for its existence. Both of these tenets drive the healthy functioning of a company.

Relishing the power advantage position

Negative accountability culture is usually propagated by those who consider a position of authority determinative.

To put it simply, a superior with a power advantage will induce negative accountability in a company’s culture. They will do so by putting the entire blame on a team or a person for the misstep.

Such an act diminishes the value of a person in the smooth functioning of an organization and instead presents them as another cog in the wheel. Besides, it also gives a sense of entitlement to the person in authority without taking any responsibility for their share in the outcome.

Final thoughts

Accountability is not merely a reaction. Instead, it’s a shared relationship. It enables an individual or a team to find their alignment with an organization’s purpose, boundaries, and expectations. In the absence of these, the company is very much at the risk of including negative accountability into its culture.

To avoid so, a company needs to keep the overreliance on failure in check. Moreover, it’s also crucial that an organization focuses on empowering its employees through their exhaustive involvement and not merely receiving blame.