The benefits of a culture that puts problem solving ahead of the blame game

 In Effectiveness, Uncategorized

I had an excellent session with a client today in which he told me about how he had to bring one of his employees into his office to remind him that, ”we simply can’t make these mistakes around here”.  My client told me that he had berated the employee with calm but stern voice, meaning that his intention was to wag a finger not kick him in the pants.

I thought about how many times I had done the same thing with my employees. And what do we get out of it? Will your employee improve? Will you score points with your employee? Is the employee grateful to be working at Acme Inc. now that you have laid out the law of the land? Have you solved anything? Have you ensured that the problem won’t repeat itself?

Situations where employees don’t perform well are indicators. The mistakes are the messengers, and we all know that we shouldn’t kill the messenger – which is why we shouldn’t labor about the individual errors that we find out about because without them we wouldn’t know where our challenges lie, and in turn, we would be unaware of our flaws. Let’s face it, no one likes to go to their boss when they have screwed up, but imagine if that culture were turned around and you actually won from doing just that.

It is our responsibility as leaders to transcend the anger and frustration (emotional baggage that follows us from difficult situation to difficult situation) that often comes with the disappointment of having found out that an employee has not lived up to our expectations. We can either focus on their mistakes or ensure that they won’t happen again, but just as we can’t go east when we go west, we can’t do both simultaneously.

There is the famous Stephen Covey quote that reminds us of how critical it is to ponder this idea:

Between stimulus and response, there is a space
In that space is our power to choose our response
In that response lies our growth and our freedom.

If we really want to lead in a positive direction then the choice to berate or support is obvious. The next common mistake in this situation is to then fix the problem instead of helping the employee understand that everyone makes mistakes, but they are accountable for theirs. This means that they should find a solution for preventing this problem from happening again. That might entail them asking your for help if they get stuck. (But they should get stuck first)

Imagine if your employees came to you with solutions for problems that they didn’t foresee earlier:

Rick, I missed the shipment to our number two customer yesterday because I failed to see the ticket. I’m sorry about that and I have done A, B and C in order to ensure that it doesn’t happen again.

That would be a lot better than you finding this out from your number two customer, and since the employee came with a solution you will naturally be much calmer and perhaps even praise your employee for their insight and sense of accountability.

Not all employees do this naturally (actually rarely), so it’s up to you as a leader to invoke this methodology into your culture. The first few times are not easy, and you may be gritting your teeth, but after a while you, your employees and most importantly your customers will reap the benefits of a culture that puts problem solving ahead of blame game.

The best way to initiate this change is to be very transparent. Let them know that you want to move in this direction and that like every habit it will take time. Admit to them that you haven’t been good at it in the past but that you are obviously committed – especially now that they will be looking to see that you keep your word. This will actually help you to stay true to your promise – an excellent one to keep.

The truth is, that unless you lead this, and humbly so (admitting your mistakes along the way), it will not happen and you will miss out on an opportunity much more valuable than an order from your number two customer. As a matter of fact, if you do embrace this idea there is a good chance that your number two customer might become your number eight or nine or even better.

My client took this as a learning lesson.  Will you?

 Michael Hoffman

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