Ask HR Series – Accountability versus Blame in the Workplace

Ask HR Series – Accountability versus Blame in the Workplace

Xenium’s Senior HR Business Partners know a lot about human resources, and we want to share their knowledge and insight with you! Each week, we publish a question from you, our readers, and our experienced HR leaders provide thoughtful, helpful advice addressing your HR dilemmas. Submit questions by emailing them to or by clicking on the chat icon at the bottom of this page. We are excited to partner with you…one HR question at a time!

This week’s featured HR expert is Nicole Jones.

What kinds of trainings are you doing for clients these days that are relevant to today’s HR world?

I recently did a customized training around accountability. This was for a client who really struggles with accountability at all levels of the organization. I focused the training around the book QBQ by John G. Miller—“QBQ” means the “question behind the question.” The book has been out for a while, but it really is a timeless concept.

The book stresses the importance of asking better questions and taking personal accountability for things that happen in the workplace—instead of playing the victim or procrastinating. It encourages readers to take a more proactive approach to getting work done by asking more and deeper questions of themselves and others.

The training went very well. I put together some activities and some great accountability-related leadership quotes that really resonated with people and spoke to why it’s important for them not only to have accountability with themselves, but also to figure out what that means as leaders, and how they are perceived as leaders in their organization.

Another tool I used is a great video produced by Brené Brown, a fantastic author who has written a lot of books around shame and vulnerability. She produced a brief video about blame , and how damaging blame can be in our personal and professional lives. I used this clip to demonstrate what blame and the “playing the victim” mentality are. In the video, the topic is presented in a humorous way that people can really identify with. That’s how I started the training. We first identified what blame is, why it’s damaging, and why we were even having this conversation. Then we moved into why it’s important to start out in “solve mode” when a problem arises instead of jumping to blaming and procrastinating.

The idea to create a training around this topic started with this same client about two years ago. We did a similar training around accountability, but the focus of that workshop was more on leaders and managers holding their direct reports accountable. So that past training was more along the lines of providing constructive feedback and holding employees accountable; it wasn’t necessarily about personal accountability for everyone at all levels of the organization.

I slowly realized that this company had a culture that involved a lot of blaming—blaming different departments, blaming different people, blaming the CEO, blaming upper management—for all their problems. I felt that this blaming environment would be greatly diminished, or even disappear altogether, if everyone could learn how to ask better questions. If people could recognize that everyone has a stake in the game, there would be fewer instances of finger-pointing and playing the victim. And as a result, the organization would become stronger and more robust.

This particular training was given to managers, but it could really be done for all levels of employees. I did incorporate some additional leadership training around how managers appear as role models in the organization, and how critical that image is from an engagement and accountability standpoint for the entire company.

I just completed this training a few weeks ago, so the long-term results are to be determined. We had just conducted an employee survey right before this training, and we are about to go over the survey results, so this training was well-timed. Now we can benchmark some of our action items against the manager training and the employee feedback. We will keep close tabs on this, and we will keep looking at their culture from both the manager and employee perspectives.

Julie Matthiessen

As Sales & Marketing Coordinator, Julie supports and collaborates with the Marketing Director and VP of Sales & Marketing to develop content and execute marketing strategies, as well as provide customer service and support to potential clients. She also contributes internally at Xenium as a member of the innovative culture development group XCITE.