Blame is Useless. Change Your Process.

Blame is near the top of my list of the most useless responses to problem solving. Yet assigning blame seems to be the go-to first step for most people.

Everyone is responsible and no one is to blame.

Will Schutz

We are surrounded by blame. The media assigns blame at a lightning fast pace to create fodder for the 24/7 news cycle. Disruptive employees project blame on others to cover for their own shortcomings. Managers use blame as a power play to control their employees. Blame solves nothing except to satisfy the strange inherent need for people to place blame.

According to Carl Alasko, Ph.D., “blame is a four-headed beast that attacks with criticism, accusation, punishment and humiliation.” Any individual instance may possess some or all of these features.  Then why do we place blame? For one of four reasons: to change someone’s behavior; to vent a feeling; to escape personal responsibility; and to protect ourselves.

Shame On Blame

Blame does little to change behavior in a positive direction. It results in a decrease of self-esteem and confidence. If the fear of blame is lurking, decisions will be second guessed potentially resulting the best solution being passed over. Bad decisions lead to more problems which lead to more blame which lead to more bad decisions…and on and on.

If someone is always to blame, if every time something goes wrong someone has to be punished, people quickly stop taking risks. Without risks, there can’t be breakthroughs.

Peter Diamandis

Being blamed for a problem is embarrassing. Now everyone knows that you were identified as the source of the problem.  You may not have been solely responsible but suddenly everyone is heaping all of the badness on your shoulders. This is certainly not an environment that promotes engagement. It creates an atmosphere of passive-aggressive and retaliatory behaviors. Lack of engagement, among other things, decreases productivity and increases turnover.

One of the most dangerous uses of blame is to escape personal responsibility.  Essentially lying to yourself to protect your psyche from your own faults. This trait is particularly destructive. If one cannot admit fault in their own actions, then change and improvement are impossible. Projecting blame leads to intimidation of staff and degradation of the team atmosphere. Feelings of fear, helplessness, resentment and anger often result when subordinates know that they will be punished for the shortcomings of their superior. I have seen this firsthand with a surgeon and surgical team. Working to correct the surgeon’s behavior and restore team confidence was a slow (and painful) process. Over time, the performance of the team as well as patient outcomes improved.

Something Sometime Will Go Wrong

All of our systems and processes are dynamic.  They may operate at steady-state most of the time but eventually an error occurs causing a system failure. Sometimes minor. Sometimes major. The solution to the problem is to identify the action that resulted in the system failure then re-evaluate and redesign your processes to prevent a recurrence. Identifying someone to blame will not help prevent a recurrence. If you find that a certain employee is routinely involve in the process failure, blaming them is still useless. The solution is to retrain them or remove them from the process. This response shows the team that the focus is on improvement not on blame and punishment.

To err is human. To blame someone else is politics.

Hubert H. Humphrey

Placing blame occurs in situations where something went wrong.  If things go right, then it’s called giving credit. The next time something inevitably goes wrong, take a more productive approach. Solve the problem, don’t point a finger.

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