August 20, 2014
Being in the business of buoying beleaguered projects, there is one B-word I loathe —blame. It is the most frequently used word on troubled and failing projects; we hear it nightly on the news. “Who is going to get fired for this?” In reality, only in the rarest of occasions have I seen the need to assign blame. Finding fault and applying the comprehensive corrective action is the best solution. Blaming someone neither finds the reason nor corrects the failure. Blame is at the root of a culture that is secretive, insecure, and narcissistic. Blame-ridden cultures stop at providing temporary pleasure to a small faction while the root cause of the issue continues to route organizations unabated.
Blame Takes Your Eye off the Ball
Trying to affix blame, finding who to fire, or hauling companies into court is about punishment. Failures need solutions. We need to learn from the foibles and chart a course to avoid repeat mistakes. Unless someone knew about the issue and did nothing to correct it, directed someone to create the failure, willfully acted in a harmful manner, or knowingly did not have the governance in place to address it, he or she is not the problem. Recently, we reviewed three high-profile multi-year projects. In two, problems stemmed from the lack of focus placed on testing. On the third, it was lack of governance. In all three, a secondary issues was the lack of communication. In all three, someone is on record for uttering the phrase, “I was never told there was an issue.” In all three, people overtly plotted action to avoid being blamed. Blame kills communication and coopreration.
Blame Attempts to Remove Culpability
Blame is the simplest form of saying “not me.” When you search for blame in others, you are trying to affix attention on what they did to divert attention, including your own, from what could have been done differently. In politics, it is the infamous witch-hunt, searching for someone else to look bad in order to gain recognition somewhere else. Bottom line, blame attempts to remove one’s culpability.
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Change Your Approach
Obviously, the best solution is to address problems before they happen. Inevitably, though, the occasional issue sneaks past even the most cautious eye and you are faced with a major problem. To reduce the pain, leaders must set the proper tone.
In the End It Is about People
Blame destroys trust, without trust you lose good employees. Without good employees, you will not succeed. Ergo, blame begets failure. Whether you are a CEO or a project manager, a leader’s job is to build a culture that rises above blame and functions on responsibility, accountability, and trust. To build this culture, you need to surround yourself with people who hold these same core values. If you feel you must fire someone, fire the person who violates these principles.
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