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Sunday, 7 August 2016

Someone Made a Mistake? Sort It Out And Avoid The Blame Culture!

Those who know me are well aware of my rooted aversion to the BBC Radio 4 Today programme primarily because of their interviewing style.

The cricketer and commentator, the late great Richie Benaud, used tell new entrants into the world of communications that they should "never ask a statement".  How often does that happen and I confess to letting it irritate me.

It normally starts with "Do you think......?" and continues with a statement that is the opinion of the interviewer, in other words it is usually a biased question.

Even more toxic is that question after discussing a problem that starts with "Who do you blame?" and then moves into "heads must roll" or "someone needs to be held to account".

It is all very negative and leads to people avoiding making mistakes in any way which says that they tend to avoid doing anything with even a modicum of risk that might end up with a mistake and a reprimand.

In other words the blame culture is an inhibiting factor rather than an influence intended to encourage imaginative thinking and a willingness to take risks.

Generally speaking incompetent people need something or someone to blame for any perceived shortcomings. It leads to closed minds and low morale.

On the other hand great open-minded leaders value their people, they encourage them, they trust them, they reward them with praise and they get out of their way and let them get on with their jobs.

This is not to be a closed mind to the possibility of mistakes occurring. The clever thing is the way to handle the consequences

There is a story of a business where an employee made a mistake that led to a cost to the company in excess of £250K.

He immediately offered his resignation that was just as promptly rejected.  The leader told him that he was the best person to design a process to make sure that it wouldn't happen again.

Perhaps this is a rare and very enlightened approach to the situation. Nevertheless it is eminently sensible and accepts we are all vulnerable to the occasional error.

I accept that constant and repeated mistake making needs to be handled in a different and more positive manner.   Even so if you consider how infrequently this happens we can see that special though unusual actions are necessary.

There is no question that regular scheduled one-to-one meetings between the leader and members of the team are extremely valuable. Not only do they foster a better mutual understanding but also they encourage both sides to give and accept positive challenge.

A great one-to-one needs to be to the agenda of the team member rattan that if the leader.  The leader can prompt information and discussion through judicious questioning, drilling down in fact.  It is a ritual part if the leadership coaching function.

Leaders need to be on their guard against asking biased closed questions especially during one-to-ones with their ream members. We always need to ask the open questions that will bring out the deeper feelings of team members.

Rudyard Kipling wrote a poem that started:

"I have six honest serving men
(They taught me all I knew)
Their names are What and Why and When
and How and Where and Who"

Use these words as starters to any question and you are likely to have a considered response rattan than a simple Yes or No. By the way, try the What Else? question as a follow up then sit back and just listen.

You may well be surprised by the result.  Above all avoid looking to allocate blame for anything that has gone awry.  It is a futile exercise and will close down any reasoned debate.

An enlightened approach to resolving an error means that you take it seriously while accepting that we are not all percept, inclosing
ourselves.


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