Eliminate Blame From the Equation
This is so powerful that this one single shift will catapult your efforts to improve everything from cost containment to business processes to personnel relations and teambuilding. From a Bang-for-the-Buck perspective, this change alone will give your life a healthy booster shot.
Aside from shame and blame having a causal relationship to one another, they have several things in common. For one, blame is as pervasively (and fundamentally) woven into our culture as shame. For another, neither add any positive impact on or value to any problem solving process. What’s worse, they are actually both counter-productive to such processes. So here we are once again, faced with our typical cultural behavior standing in our own way of progress. And that part about it being pervasively woven into the culture is going to make it difficult to remove. Don’t let this stand in your way, though. The sweeter fruit tends to be further out on the branches.
First, in using blame, what are we trying to achieve or accomplish? Would it be safe to say that we’re trying to avoid the shame that we anticipate will be dumped on us as a result of (somebody) making a mistake? Notice it’s not really important who made the mistake. It’s just important that you don’t get blamed for it, because of that shame thing. Now sometimes the shame thing is so embraced by a company’s culture, that there are systems in place to make it official (demotions, pay-cuts, probation, .ring), and sometimes it’s just the usual tribal banishment (isolation from the ”in” crowd). Bottom line, there is no actual solution inherent in blaming. Nothing gets fixed.
When talking about making mistakes, I’m not talking about performance issues here. This is not about someone not caring about what they’re doing, and exhibiting a trend of sloppy work. This is about looking beyond ”who is to blame,” and looking at the problem to be solved. All the Blame Game is capable of creating is an atmosphere of fear, anxiety, and animosity. This atmosphere stops people from coming together to solve problems in team fashion. There’s simply too much suspicion and fear, and of course the overriding concern is about the blame, not about coming up with a solution. Worse, this divisiveness enforces an ”us or them” mentality which always disallows cooperative problem solving.
As an example a foreman might blame a machine operator saying, ”Tom messed up that part again.” There’s no further exploration into why, because the foreman has protected himself from whatever punishment or shaming behavior is being held over either of their heads. What’s worse, Tom has now gotten a black mark on his reputation, without due process or a jury of his peers. Now, what if we look into why Tom messed up that part? What if we find out that it’s not about Tom’s being incompetent at all? What if we find out that Tom has been complaining for months that his lathe has bad bearings and the material won’t spin true? When we stop blaming Tom for messing up, we can actually find real solutions for real problems. (In this scenario we’d also discover that there’s a communication breakdown between the production floor and management as well).
When we stop blaming the shipping department for getting an order wrong, we open up the discussion to discover that there’s a communication breakdown between the sales department and the shipping department, which can now be solved. We stop passively accepting the log jams being somebody’s fault, and start actively looking at them as common obstacles to work on together.
1. Start actively becoming conscious of where and when blame comes up in meetings, conversations, and other discussions about processes or problems.
2. Make it a rule that there will be No Blaming in these discussions, and everyone will simply have to find another way to describe what is happening. (The order arrived late vs. Joe processed the order too slowly).
3. Find ways to reward the behavior of taking on responsibility for solving problems as opposed to off-loading the responsibility by blaming others.
The more this behavior is rewarded in place of hiding behind blame being rewarded, the more people will actually come together, take on responsibilities, and help you build a better, more prosperous organization.
If you are a sole proprietor, dealing with vendors, suppliers, and clients in this manner will help you enroll them in your virtual organization, and get them on your team. If you are a parent, you can teach a far more conscious and effective approach to problem solving to your kids. In a relationship, removing the Blame Game allows you to concentrate on solutions together, rather than blame tearing you apart.
When you eliminate blame from the equation, you’ll get positive, real solutions.