Blame-a-palooza: Why a Culture of Blame Will Kill Innovation and Scare Off Your Customers

My parents enjoying a much deserved vacation.

My parents enjoying a much deserved vacation. Relevancy of this image at end of post!

Stuff happens.  Customers leave angry or disappointed.  Grant applications are denied.  Events are poorly attended.   Cataloging gets backlogged.  Books wait to be shelved.  Printers get jammed.  Computers break down.  Mistakes are made both by accident and by human failure.  How do we deal with these moments?

In many ways, assigning blame is inevitable.  It’s how much time and energy is spent blaming that is the key to whether you learn something valuable from failure or you miss an opportunity to become better at what you do.

If we are spending time talking about WHO is to blame, we aren’t asking ourselves the important questions like:

Why did this happen?

Was there a breakdown in communication?  Are we using the wrong tools?  Do we need to retrain staff, shift staff, cross train staff?  There a million questions to be asking depending on the problem/error; but, if we are more concerned with placing blame, we won’t be asking the questions we need to ask.

Whenever we talk about blame, we must also talk about responsibility.  It would be great if people took responsibility for their errors and we got down to the business of finding solutions to the problem.  We could spend way too much time discussing the ramifications of dealing with folks who don’t take responsibility for their actions; but, the fact is whether they own up or not, the problem is still there waiting to be solved while we go off on tangents of laying blame and kvetching about who should take responsibility.

Ideally, we should be creating an atmosphere in our workplaces, where staff feel safe to make mistakes.  This type of atmosphere encourages people to fess up when they’ve erred and the brainstorming for solutions can begin immediately.  It also encourages creativity and willingness to share and try ideas.  The best libraries are filled with staff that can think outside the box and are generous with a flow of ideas even when they know the investment is not if every idea is used but  that they are contributing to a place where ideas are shared and batted around and none are considered crazy or stupid.

When in a situation where a problem is being discussed, whether you are regular staff or a member of management, when the discussion veers towards finding blame and away from solution finding, you can take steps to get the discussion back on track.

A simply stated, “I think it’s more important to figure out how to fix this than figure our whose fault it is.”  Or, “I know we are all busy.  I think our time would be better spent finding a solution to our problem.”

If you find yourself obsessing over who’s to blame, I suggest you think of the following:

  1. Focus on the Customer:  Ask yourself how best to serve your customer/patron.  Ask yourself if you are contributing to the problem or helping solve the problem.  Remind yourself that the ultimate goal is to be providing the best service.  If you are doing something that takes away from that, you are not helping.
  2. My sister and I had a “play room” that was actually a closet under the stairs.  At one point, we had created a giant mess. When my mother found us, both sitting on the floor, stuff piled all around us, she said:  I don’t care who did it; just clean it up.  She took that attitude with most things and I think I’m a better person because of it.  Feel free to use it as a workplace mantra:  I don’t care who did it; let’s just clean it up.

** The above picture is of my parents on a beach in Delaware.  I have learned much from them.  I feel lucky to have landed in their family.  There has not been a moment in my life when I did not feel loved and now that I’m a grownup I have come to appreciate my mother’s little wisdoms running through my head.  “I don’t care who did it” was just one of many valuable life lessons I learned from them.

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