When you see the “blame culture” in an organization blamed when something goes wrong, do you play along or make a conscious choice to do the right thing?
The Blame Game (Audio)
How prevalent is “the blame game” in the culture of your organisation? How much more important is “looking good” than getting the right outcomes? How easy is it to point a finger at someone else when taking responsibility to learn from a mistake would perhaps convert the error into a future strength for everyone in the company? How good are you at “the blame game”?
I have seen blame defined as the act of censuring, holding responsible, making negative statements about an individual or group that their action or actions are socially or morally irresponsible; blame being the opposite of praise.
Blame stresses censure or punishment for a lapse or misdeed for which one is held accountable; to hold responsible; find fault with.
So how does blame manifest in your environment?
When we speak about corporate culture, it is often referred to as: “how we do things around here”. I’m often amazed how an organization made up of so many different people from so many different backgrounds can collectively have a specific culture, and have often wondered how that comes about and how it can take on such different directions.
Of course there are many contributing factors, some of which arise from the manner in which the organisations leadership lives out their own and the organizations values. In German we have a saying: “der Fisch stinkt vom Kopf”, which loosely translated into English suggests that “the fish smells from its head”, implying that many behaviours set “at the top” are copied and played out, even exacerbated in the ranks below.
And so when a blame culture becomes evident, it is often important to look for whether and how this might “start “at the top”. Ironically, that is “blaming the top”, isn’t it? Whilst that may well have an impact on the culture, isn’t it the responsibility of each and every individual to play their part? Isn’t it a “cop out” to blame “the culture” for a blame culture? Isn’t it individuals who “point the finger”? Couldn’t each individual make a conscious choice to rather do the right thing?
Our positive, constructive and professional attitude is something we can all choose or ignore, right?
So when something goes wrong, don’t we have a choice? Instead of finding someone or something to blame, couldn’t we take responsibility ourselves for the situation and rather focus on solving the problem or rectifying the result and recognize the learnings we can (individually and collectively) take from it? If enough of us did so, wouldn’t that have an impact on the culture, and help move things away from a “blame culture”?
I suppose that this may well be influenced by “the politics” of the organization or that specific situation – whether we see that we either have or don’t have “the power” to act one way or the other.
And so, if we allow ourselves to be overly ego driven, then we might give far more value to “looking good” in front of others or even more importantly, in front of the boss, right? In that scenario it would be much easier to find and apportion blame to someone or something else, thereby (supposedly) distancing ourselves from the error. I’m sure every one of us can think of examples of where this has occurred – where we have done so or witnessed someone else doing so, right?
In that context, I guess it doesn’t help that we have developed such a “litigation culture” and that particularly the legal profession has much to gain to help “find someone to make responsible” – to blame.
And our politicians seem to have taken Managing Spin to a whole new level, haven’t they? Slippery as eels, they often duck and dive, trying to find something the other party did wrong, rather than focusing on addressing and “fixing” the problem. It appears more important to be seen to look good than necessarily help find a solution, isn’t it?
The learning organisation
I have often spoken of the learning organization in my blogs. I believe that the learning organization has a far greater opportunity to succeed in exceeding its goals than one where blame and finger pointing and punishing mistakes are prevalent.
In one of my very first blogs Using “the Gap” to reframe yourself I spoke about creating a pause (a gap) to consider the response we were about to make towards something and ascertain whether there might not be a better response available that might create a better outcome – the reframe. Wouldn’t this create the opportunity in which we could maximize our (and the companies) learning?
Again this can be driven by individuals, but is so much more evident and productive if it is supported by leaders and made evident through their behaviour.
Blame at home
So far we have spoken about blame culture within organisations. What about the role of blame at home or in our personal lives? Isn’t this also a significant factor in the harmonious relationships we keep at home, within our families? Isn’t this where blame is born and learned? Isn’t this part of our conditioning – where a child will emulate what it sees in the behaviour of its parents and role models and learns to emulate? Isn’t it true that if a child is raised in an environment that encourages “having a go” and learning from mistakes it may have a substantially more constructive and positive outlook than if it learns that it is more important to find and apportion blame when something goes wrong?
Of course that has a bearing but as responsible adults we have a choice. We can either “hide behind” conditioning and get really good at the blame game or we can adopt a more responsible attitude and choose a more learning oriented approach.
Harvard Business Review
I found the following “what you can do about it” advice in the Harvard Business Review which I found worthy of sharing here:
- Don’t blame others for your mistakes. The temptation is huge to point the finger elsewhere when you make a mistake. Resist it. Not only will you gain respect and loyalty from your followers, you’ll also help to prevent a culture of blame from emerging.
- When you do blame, do so constructively. There are times when people’s mistakes really do need to be surfaced in public. In these cases, make sure to highlight that the goal is to learn from mistakes, not to publicly humiliate those who make them.
- Set an example by confidently taking ownership for failures. Our findings showed that blame was contagious, but not among those who felt psychologically secure. So try to foster a chronic sense of inner security in order to reduce the chances that you’ll lash out at others.
- Always focus on learning. Creating a culture where learning — rather than avoiding mistakes — is the top priority will help to ensure that people feel free talk about and learn from their errors.
- Reward people for making mistakes. Some companies are actually starting to incentivize employees to make mistakes, so long as the mistakes can teach valuable lessons that lead to future innovation.
So where does this leave you on the topic of blame?
When next you notice someone around you pointing fingers instead of taking the responsible option, why not make them aware of it? You know, it might be so ingrained in some of us, that we don’t even notice us doing so any more?
When next something in your life or work goes wrong, can you see how Using “the Gap” to reframe yourself could help you notice whether you are about to take a “blame” approach to the situation, and if so, to look for a more appropriate response?
If you are a leader of a team or an organisation, what if you reflect on the culture of your organization and sought a few views “from the ground” as to how this plays out in your culture? What if you realized blame is more prevalent than you thought? As the “head”, what will you do about it?
Now that it is in our awareness, can we all see what we can do about it and how positively it can affect most of our relationships?
What if you could?