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date: 01 March 2024

Blame: Stakeholder Judgments That Impact Organizations and Entrepreneurslocked

Blame: Stakeholder Judgments That Impact Organizations and Entrepreneurslocked

  • Varkey TitusVarkey TitusManagement, University of Nebraska
  •  and Izuchukwu MbaraonyeIzuchukwu MbaraonyeHenry W. Bloch School of Management, University of Missouri – Kansas City

Summary

Blame is a feature of everyday life, whether or not that blame is directed toward an individual for a willful act of moral transgression, an entrepreneur for taking reckless action that puts the venture and its employees at risk, or a company for the violation of some social norm. Blame identifies morally wrong behavior and has the power to pressure individuals to adhere to a set of norms. More broadly, blame is worthy of scholarly consideration because it is a reality for organizations and the individuals who lead them.

Blame is multifaceted because it entails psychological, social, and legal issues. Historically, psychological theories of blame emphasized the rational and prescriptive—how blame attribution processes ought to occur to produce an accurate blame attribution, for example. Over time, psychological theories started to incorporate nonrational elements—such as how socially attractive the potentially blameworthy is, whether the blameworthy engage in “positive” or “negative” actions that are unrelated to the blameworthy act, and so forth. Blame becomes more complicated when it moves from a specific individual (e.g., an entrepreneur) to an aggregate group (a venture) or an abstract entity (a corporation). The aggregation of blame creates an apportionment problem in that it is unclear who within a group ought to be blamed. This complication is further illustrated in the court of law. For instance, courts in the United States have struggled to consistently judge cases of corporate criminal liability due, in part, to the difficulty of knowing how to assign blame to an abstract entity. Part of the challenge relates to establishing a criminal “state of mind” to a corporation, and the broader question whether a corporation can even have such a state of mind (or if that state of mind resides in its leaders, employees, etc.).

Management research on blame is limited. Existing work examines blames-shifting tactics, such as scapegoating, wherein organizations place blame on specific organizational actors who may or may not have any direct connection to the blameworthy event. Importantly, blame attributions can flow both ways: employees may sometimes blame the broader organization, despite the employees’ involvement in the blameworthy act.

Given the complexities of blame, entrepreneurs face unique blame-related challenges at different points of their venture’s life cycle. At early stages of the life cycle, blameworthy acts are unlikely to have significant societal impact, and attributions are relatively simple due to the minimal number of actors involved in the venture. As the venture grows, the impact of a blameworthy act grows in magnitude, as does the difficulty of accurately apportioning blame for the act among the numerous actors involved. If the venture eventually adopts a formal corporate structure, it also adopts corporate characteristics such as dispersed decision-making processes, a board of directors that are meant to provide some level of oversight, and so forth. This formal corporate structure introduces the challenge of establishing a “state of mind” for a blameworthy act. Ultimately, blame affects entrepreneurs, their ventures, and the corporations that eventually grow from them, and is worth further scholarly investigation.

Subjects

  • Entrepreneurship
  • Ethics
  • Organization Theory

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