The Roebke Rule (Real-Time Accountability)

Over the years, I’ve been adamant about requiring accountability as soon as expedient. Don’t try to discipline me for something that happened a month ago – or last week. If it bothers you as a friend, co-worker or family member, bring it up. Most organizations have systems to address wrong-doing; people are paid to enforce standards of performance and behavior. Failure to promptly address wrongs only serve to endorse the behavior. (Justice delayed isn’t justice.)

Just as you don’t hit your dog with a newspaper for peeing on the carpet last week, I can’t stand it when someone is being held accountable for things that should have been addressed in the past. One’s memory of details fades quickly, especially in regards to trivial matters. If an issue isn’t addresses as important, it gets filed under “trivial” without consideration. Historically, societies have reached a general consensus as to what time frames are acceptable for coming forward. People’s memories are untrustworthy under ideal circumstances; memories tainted by personal dislike, individual agendas and simple time lapses can cause avoidable harm to everyone involved. We must also come to terms with the fact that many people lie frequently, for a multitude of reasons.

The “Roebke Rule” is the official name I added to this sentiment. While I’ve quoted this rule for years, I first put it in a blog in 2011.

You must bring up the alleged deviation, crime or injustice as soon as convenient. If it is important, you will use the myriad methods of discussion at your disposal to bring it up. You cannot wait until you are on the hot seat to shift the blame to someone else. If you didn’t bring it up at the time it happened, it’s problematic at best to dredge it out later.

I can’t tell you how many times in my life I’ve wanted to shake someone’s eyeballs out of their head for violating the Roebke Rule. When someone gets called on the carpet to be held accountable, one of the tried-and-true responses is to point the finger at someone else as a distraction.

It is such a pleasure to repeat this frequently and then observe the next person on the hot seat as he/she realizes that he/she can’t get by with trying to dredge up the past.

Further, when an alleged miscreant claims that he can’t trust those to whom he might have reported another person’s misdeeds to, I always invoke a list of alternate people with which they could have spoken. If they insist that no one was trustworthy, I point out that perhaps either they have an unhealthy cynicism toward their superiors OR they might not be in the right place. If someone has mistreated you, find a means to hit the aggressor in the face. We can’t sustain a society in which no one can be trusted with reports of misbehavior. It’s an unsustainable complaint when taken to its logical conclusion.

The Roebke Rule name originates from a supervisor I knew. As you can guess, his downfall was due to total disregard for the rule named on his behalf. He was held accountable for things that should have been addressed before, by people who already knew it was going on. A witch hunt ensued after-the-fact. People who demonstrated no interest in the subject came out of the woodwork once it seemed as if the powers-that-be had a scapegoat to pin much of their issues on. Those who should have taken their duty to protect everyone seriously failed to do their jobs. Please note that I’m not even addressing whether all the allegations were true or not – just that people knew at the time of the transgressions and fell silent, even those who would not have suffered any ill effects for speaking up, talking or taking action. This is doubly true for the supervisor’s superiors, people with the power to address issues without fear or reprisal.

Sidenote: This is another reason why anonymous surveys or critiques can be such a huge waste and cause harm to people and organizations. We must provide outlets for commentary without reprisal. Serious allegations, however, need a different method for resolution. Each of us must find a way to come forward when we witness or experience undesirable behavior. We also need to support people’s ability to do so.


P.S. Please note that issues such as sexual harassment can be much more complex than meets the eye. As with all generalizations, please avoid stretching this rule to encompass all possible scenarios. We must create a better system to address wrong-doing in our society. I know that there is an cyclical emphasis on these issues, however. I’m not unilaterally judging people who are mistreated by those with power. Those are shoes I can’t fairly wear. Each person and situation is unique. I cringe when I hear of people who knew of a sociopath or predator 5, 10 or 20 years before the perpetrator is exposed.



*Originally posted Feb, 2011…