Blame. It’s in every aspect of our lives. For some strange reason, the human race is fixated on placing blame whenever something goes wrong. Think about it: When problems arise, one of the first things that happens is we look for someone or something to blame.
Remember the book of Genesis? God asked Adam if he ate the forbidden fruit. Adam tried to blame Eve. Eve pointed to the serpent. Yes, it seems that blame has been one of mankind’s downfalls since the beginning of time. Taking responsibility is not something that comes naturally. Blame is everywhere.
But for what purpose?
In too many business cultures, a blame mindset is propagated by how management chooses to handle mistakes. I’ve seen it way too often: “Joe’s at fault – he screwed up,” says the manager, smugly, as if to imply his fact-finding is now done. “Let Joe take the heat and let’s get on with business-as-usual.”
Isn’t a shame that everyone covers their behind as soon as something goes wrong? Even worse, isn’t it bizarre how some people just feel better if someone else gets the axe?
What a shallow mentality. I’ll even go so far as to say it’s blatantly immature.
I propose an alternative mindset. This is, after all, 2004, and we’re supposed to be an enlightened species. What say we make our main focus finding a way to prevent the mistake from happening again? It’s that simple. Yes, it includes finding out what happened, with all the contributing factors. But let’s not get stuck there. The next step is to ask ourselves, “What can we do to prevent this from happening again?”
Instead of giving someone the axe, what if we take a good look at the four P’s: People, Products, Policies, and Procedures, then ask—and answer—some direct questions about each one.
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?
Yes, there are a lot of questions here, but even so, this list is not exhaustive. And notice two things: Nowhere does it ask "why wasn't this done earlier?" (argumentative) and nowhere does it ask “who screwed up?” If we hired an unethical bad apple who’s causing problems, then we dropped the ball elsewhere – such as during the screening process. But even then, an unethical bad apple can be released, and the screening process can be reviewed and possibly revised.
Bottom line: The Blame Game is simply childish. It reeks of immaturity, and 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 direction our finger should be pointing is at a solution.