Becoming a Blame-free Organization
By Gerri King, PhD, Human Dynamics Associates
Let's say one of your employees starts to change their behavior, become more motivated and make fewer mistakes. Good news, right? Which is the better reason behind this: they intrinsically think it's the right thing to do or they want to avoid being blamed?
Criticizing and blaming are forms of revenge - not a practice to model. In a blame-free environment, there is a commitment to work things out, and good communication is a crucial part in making that happen.
Environments That Encourage Blame
Blame festers in an authoritative environment. Yet, even with the best of intentions, supervisors and executives walk a fine line. Whenever anyone influences or exerts control over someone's life, there is a power differential, which can be unintentionally exploited. When we use power, we use force, and even with gentle force, we can expect three possible reactions: fight, flight, or submission. None of those encourage an equitable relationship; nor do they foster leadership. Instead, fear is fostered and secrecy promoted, crushing motivation.
Even in the most equitable companies, it's hard to eliminate intimidation entirely. Though people may be encouraged to own up to their mistakes, a supervisor plays a potentially conflicting dual role: problem solver and performance evaluator. If employees go to a supervisor more than once with the same issue, it may show up negatively on their performance evaluations. If their performance reviews are not primarily about the future (i.e. training and/or or career growth needs), then there is every reason for the employee to be less than forthcoming about their mistakes.
Creating a blame- and punitive-free environment is a challenge, but one worth facing for its extraordinary outcomes. It's not an environment without expectations, nor is it chaotic. In fact, it requires increased clarification, articulation, and follow-up. These preferable approaches are usually overlooked or ignored in a punitive atmosphere.
If negatively delivered criticism is removed, and a trusting, character-building, supportive environment is created, where everyone involved takes responsibility for what went wrong, long-lasting behavioral changes are generated from within. Rather than continuing to respond to external rewards and punishments, employees internalize what they need to do, and identify expectations for themselves. When those expectations are not met or mistakes are made, people are much more willing to acknowledge the part they played and take responsibility for rectifying the situation.
Trust That It Will Work
Time taken now to create this model will save a great deal of time down the road. It's based on the premise that "It doesn't matter who's at fault. What matters is what's not working gets fixed." Let trust be your guiding principle.
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Social Psychologist and Organizational Consultant Gerri King, PhD, is the president of Human Dynamics Associates, Inc. She trains, speaks, and consults throughout the U.S. and abroad. For more information, please visit her website.