This blog post originally appeared on Press Start Leadership
Over the years I’ve seen a lot of organizations face a lot of problems, and I’m always amazed when I see them jump into blame mode versus solution-seeking mode. I’ve never seen a situation improve by finding someone to blame. It lowers morale and ignores the problem that still needs fixing. Organizations often spend too much time upfront asking how did it happen? and who did it? instead of how can we solve it? and who can solve it? It’s wasted energy when they need to be moving forward.
There’s nothing gained from the negativity of blame culture. Usually an employee is already embarrassed they made a mistake, or worse, they’re worried about keeping their job. Blame culture doesn’t stop mistakes—it causes people to hide them. I’ve worked at a lot of companies where people were afraid to bring up mistakes, even though no one was in danger of being fired. Management’s reaction was always asking who messed up, which made people afraid, and ultimately caused more problems.
But Christopher, shouldn’t I reflect on what went wrong? Yes, of course, but do it after the problem is resolved—and don’t spend so much time analyzing what went wrong that it takes away from actual issues. Mistakes happen, we’re human! (And our robot overlords aren’t quite ready for us yet.) So, how do you find a good balance? Next time someone on your team makes a mistake, follow these steps:
Solve the problem
Do a root cause analysis
Check your processes
This process even works with repeated mistakes. After all, large scale issues can still be remedied with a solution. There are performance improvement plans, mentoring options, training programs—the sky’s the limit. In a solution-oriented culture, you set people up to come up with the solutions themselves. When something goes wrong, how do we fix it? If you don’t know, who does? When it’s solved, how do we make sure we don’t repeat it?
It’s important to constantly improve processes and people. Only by encouraging your team to solve problems (and to understand it’s okay to have them), do you catch the problems early. Over time, you also can train your employees to deal with problems largely on their own. I never mind when my employees bring problems to me, but I encourage them to have some solutions in their back pocket. My first question when I hear a problem is, “How do we solve it?” If you always provide the answer, people will expect you to do all the problem solving, and in the end, it won’t help you - or them.
Ultimately, you suffer greater issues in a culture of blame than in one of learning and growth, so stop pointing the finger and start finding solutions together.