Stop blaming and start looking for solutions

By Dan Bobinski

The Daily Record Newswire

One of the first things people do when something goes wrong is look for someone to blame. The practice is extremely common, but it's not only ineffectual, I say it's a sign of weak leadership.

If people want to step up and be leaders, they should stop blaming and start looking for solutions. Yes, it's often necessary to correctly identify the source of a problem, but that by itself is not leadership. The first thing to do after discovering a problem should be answering the question "how do we fix this?"

A quick glance at history shows us that the blame game goes back a long way. In fact, if we look at chapter three from the Bible's book of Genesis, when God asked Adam if he ate the forbidden fruit, Adam blamed Eve. When God went to Eve, she blamed the serpent. In other words, in the very first recorded instance of something going wrong, blame was everyone's first choice.

Ask most parents whether taking responsibility is considered a positive trait, and you'll likely hear a "yes" answer, but good parents know that it has to be learned. If you're a parent, you know what I'm talking about. Ask any young child about a problem or a disagreement, and the child immediately finds someone (or something else) to blame. It's amazing how naturally kids deflect personal responsibility. And nobody has to teach them this -- they do it innately!

So consider someone promoted into management or leadership who relies on blame. We've all seen it, and probably way too often. A manager encounters a problem, smugly finds someone to blame, and then acts like the problem is solved. Or we see 80 percent of their effort is spent finding someone to blame, and only 20 percent of their effort going toward solving the problem. And even then, their solutions amount to little more than a Band Aid trying to cover a deep gash. Doing this does little, if anything, to show true leadership. I'll even go so far as to say it's childish. Furthermore, I predict lower levels of commitment and effectiveness will be found in organizations where the blame game is played.

If placing blame is the default setting, then taking responsibility is a learned behavior that must overwrite it.

So let's look at problem solving with personal responsibility mindset. After all, we're an allegedly enlightened species, and we're supposed to act like adults, not kids. When mistakes get made, let's make it our main focus to look for ways to prevent them from happening again. Yes, solving a problem often involves finding out what happened, but let's not think we've done something worthwhile just by finding someone to blame.

When encountering problems, one way to address them is by examining what's known as the four P's: People, Products, Policies, and Procedures. For each one we can ask--and answer--some direct questions. Here are some examples:

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. But notice one thing: Nowhere does it ask "who screwed up?" If we've hired an unethical employee who's causing problems, then we have another root problem to solves, such as fixing our screening and hiring process. But even then, an unethical bad apple can be released, and the screening process can be reviewed and revised.

The bottom line is that the blame game is childish and should be avoided by those who consider themselves professional. A better approach to handling mistakes is to first ask the right questions, and THEN take corrective actions. Good managers and leaders should be pointing at solutions, not looking for scapegoats.

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Dan Bobinski is a best-selling author and president of Online Train the Trainer, where he teaches managers and leaders to think and act more like trainers. Reach him at (208) 375-7606 or dan@workplace-excellence.com.

Published: Fri, May 25, 2012

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