Psychology of Responsibility
Aerossurance recently discussed research cited in Yes! 50 secrets from the Science of Persuasion, written by Goldstein, Martin and Cialdini, on whether organisations are considered more or less responsible for incidents depending on whether the cause was technical or human failure. In the same book they also discuss research on the reaction to how adverse events are described by organisations.
Fiona Lee, Christopher Peterson, and Larissa Tiedens’ 2004 paper Mea Culpa: Predicting Stock Prices from Organizational Attrubutions, first gave research subjects one of two versions of an annual report for a fictitious company. In Version A the management took responsibility for being unprepared for deteriorating market conditions. In Version B, the company blamed legislative changes outside their control for the poor performance.
The researchers found that participants who saw the Version A, viewed the company more positively than those who saw the version that blamed outside factors.
Aerossurance recently highlighted that blaming suppliers or others is a flawed form of crisis management (e.g. Firestone and Ford or BP and Transocean), partly because you pick your suppliers, they work to meet your requirements and you are expected to monitor their performance.
The researchers went on to study annual reports from 14 companies during a 21-year period. They found that companies that attributed poor performance to internal factors (i.e. admitted they could have done better) had higher stock prices a year later than companies who attributed the performance to external factors.
Lee and her colleagues argue that taking responsibility for negative events made the organisations appear more in control, leading to more positive impressions. Perhaps it also means internally that taking responsibility also gives ‘permission’ for lessons to be learnt and improvements to be made.
UPDATE 21 July 2015: The BBC published an article that discusses the value of saying sorry and come cases were that took some time.