For some strange reason, humans seem intent on placing blame whenever something goes wrong. Have you been blamed for anything in the workplace? Regardless of whether or not you deserved it, most people on the receiving end of blame feel they’re being treated unfairly and they and begin to distance themselves from whoever is intent on finding blame. It’s a natural reaction, and it often has negative consequences.
If you’re in a managerial or leadership role, it’s probably wise to focus on finding solutions instead of finding someone to blame. The higher up one is in the company, the more important this becomes. This is not to say that a person who does something wrong should not be identified—they should. But that needs to be a smaller part of a bigger, solutions-focused picture.
Dee Dee is a server at a restaurant at a restaurant that I frequent. When I asked her about being blamed she immediately thought of her former boss who went on a blame-a-thon whenever something went wrong. Apparently this person wouldn’t rest until he found and wrote up whoever was at the root of why the problem occurred. “That became his entire focus,” Dee Dee said. “It got to a point where everyone stopped what they were doing and spent the next fifteen or thirty minutes pulling together their alibi,” she said. “Nobody wanted to feel the wrath of his Gestapo tactics.”
Blame from a coworkers is bad enough in that it can destroy open communication between two people. Blame coming from a supervisor it can vastly reduce morale and affects employee performance, which then affect the bottom line.
The truth is that when people work in an atmosphere of blame, they often stop caring about improving their performance. They may make some short term efforts, but nothing that involves the energy of a fully-engaged employee.
I’d like to suggest that when we discover a mistake, our main focus should be on finding a way to prevent the mistake from happening again. Yes, we should find out what happened, but let’s not get stuck there. We need to ask ourselves, “What can be done to prevent this from happening again?”
A good way to pursue this is to examine the four key areas: People, Products, Policies, and Procedures. We can ask—and answer—some direct questions about each one. Obviously we don’t need to become Gestapos and ask each of the following questions: These are just some question that could be asked to guide our way toward solution.
People: Do the people involved with the problem have enough education and training? Do communication problems exist? Are the right people in the right jobs? What are people’s perceptions of how things should be different? Are people cooperating? Does trust exist? If no, what can be done to build cooperation and trust? What do the people directly involved have to say about how to prevent this problem from happening again? What are they willing to do to make it so? Is management willing to make adjustments?
Products: Was the problem a result of using an incorrect product? Was a correct product used incorrectly? Is there a better product we can use? Can the market be reviewed from time to time to try and identify better products?
Policies: Do policies exist? Are they written or unwritten? Who creates/created them? How are they enforced? How can policies be reviewed and monitored better? Who will do this? What will be the expected outcome?
Procedures: Do procedures exist for the circumstances surrounding the problem? If not, can procedures be created? How are procedures being reviewed? Is there a better way to review the procedures? How are procedures taught? How are they reinforced?
There are a lot of questions here and many more could be asked, but again, don’t feel like you have to ask every one.
Please notice one thing: Nowhere does it ask “who screwed up?” For example, if we’ve hired an unethical bad apple who’s causing problems, then we’ve dropped the ball elsewhere – such as during the screening process. If we need to do it, the unethical bad apple can be released, but then the screening process should be reviewed and possibly revised. It’s a solution focus.
Bottom line: The Blame Game should be dropped by those who consider themselves professional. A better approach to handling mistakes is to first ask the right questions, and then take corrective actions. The only time we should point our finger is when we identify a solution.