Tuesday, 6 January 2009

The real problem of blame culture

“If Bob could do his job properly, then I would be much happier”. It’s the kind of thing I hear pretty frequently. In fact, I had this conversation just a few days ago with, let’s say, Peter. If someone else could just get their act together, then the world would be a better place and Peter could finally be happy.

The way I used to deal with this was pretty predictable. I’m a machine… bleep bleep, input problem… bleep, output solution… end. I figured that by fixing Bob I could stop Peter from complaining. Simple, elegant, and entirely useless!

We’ll never stop all mistakes. In fact we should accept it as a normal part of business. So it’s time that Peter accepts it too and even plans for it. It’s normal! Once he can do that, then he can work out what stuff he actually enjoys and focus on doing more of it so he’s as happy as a kid at Christmas.

So, do I fix Bob’s problems? Yes, of course I let Bob know if there are issues, work with him to resolve them, and make sure he isn’t getting stressed about it. What we can’t do is let fixing the problem become the main priority, as if it’ll make the whole world right, it’s the priorities that are broken.

I would probably make some quip about Bob the Builder right about now, but… oh what the heck… can we fix it? Yes we can.


  1. I think an interesting element is that we often forget that not only are we all Peter's, but we are all Bob's too!

    Over the Christmas break I was also able to analyse my own status on this.

    Although I think it is human nature to be frustrated in the situations where you feel you are going the extra mile only to find compatriots are still sat at the bus stop, rising above your own mentality and continue to set the example is a far better methodology.

    I am sure there are many areas where I am the Bob. Sometimes I just wish Peter and Paul would say something about it before I end up a George or Ringo sat in the background keeping the rhythm section going.

  2. Too right. It's a big thing to make sure that everyone sees that they are on both sides of the equation.

    One thing that came out of this work was that I changed the way I set performance targets. The way I'm setting them now is by getting all the right people together in a room. It's about a full an frank discussion between the right people with the aim of fixing things that are wrong. It's not a blame thing, it's people working together to either fix real problems or remove the perception of problems that have a legitimate cause. I hope that this will help us to stop blaming Bob. See my next post for more.

    Thanks for your comment, and keep me up to date on progress.

  3. If someone's job and wages depend on something like sales and hitting targets and every time Bob makes a mistake, I have to spend time putting out the fires of that mistake time that I would normally spend doing my actual job which makes me money. Therefore I might not hit target and get my commission and then be quite out of pocket because of Bob.

    Is it due to something out of Bob's control or is it because Bob is over worked and has not got the time to make sure they get it right or is it because Bob does not care. Of course it is easiest to go with the last reason!
    If these mistakes are pointed out as a problem surely they need to be fixed. So we find these mistakes and find out why these mistakes are happening.
    If it is an overworked thing we try to change thing to avoid these mistakes without causing others or we just allow more time.If it is because Bob hates his job, we find out why.
    If it is a consistent lack of effort or care from Bob, then what? Is there a consequence? We are paying Bob to do a job which he is not doing properly, I am a supporter of the happy place of work but people still need to respect their responsibility to their employer and job.

  4. It's a good point about commissioned workers. They get a whole load of extra stress because the money they take home is so directly related to the work they do. Whether that's a good idea or not is a topic for another day.

    In your example, I would hope that you were included in the regular discussions about Bob's work and the issues it's creating. You'd use these discussions to reach agreement that the problem was a problem, and what the solution could be. With both of you agreeing, it'd become a goal for Bob to achieve.

    If a person hasn't got the aptitude, the willingness, or the motivation to perform their role, then they can't stay in the company - it's bad for everyone around them, and ultimately, for them too.