“The disastrous impacts of a blame culture work environment.
When I was growing up, “we don’t do blame in this family” was a mantra within our family unit. The motto of our parents that was rolled out whatever the situation; be it a way to diffuse a sibling squabble, a joke that was cracked when an exit off the M8 was missed, or simply when making a comparison to the approach of other families around us.
I remember as a child being so frustrated by this phrase. We don’t do blame in this family but it’s all HER fault I would proclaim, casting daggers at my younger sister. I didn’t get it. Understandable at the age of 8. However, as I have grown up it has stayed with me as a constant throughout both my personal and professional lives, and become the phrase that has shaped my outlook.
In recent years I have spent time at both ends of the spectrum; from a relaxed, friendly work place, to an authoritarian blame culture where the premise upon arrival was “trust no-one”. Having lived-through (read: survived) both, I can safely say the former is a much more enjoyable and productive environment to be part of.
If your employees are too scared to speak up out of fear, imagine how many ideas/suggestions/brainwaves that you’re missing out on because it becomes easier (safer!) just to stay quiet, keep your head down and do the bare minimum. If employees see others around them get blamed for things going wrong when their intentions were nothing but good, what message does this spread to the rest of the workforce?
How does a blame culture thrive, and what can be done to stop it?
1) It stems from the top.
In order to facilitate a no-blame environment, it has to be endorsed right from the top and will not work with a “do as I say, not as I do” attitude. As a leader, it is their role to take the most arrows, even if it means taking some for the team from time to time.
2) No blame does not mean no accountability.
The concept of blame, I believe, stems from a lack of taking responsibility for one’s own actions, and therefore the easiest thing to do is to point the finger at someone else. A work-place blame culture greatly reduces the effectiveness of a team as employees fight to carve out their niche, rather than work together towards a common goal.
However, this does not mean that people will not be held accountable for their actions. A simple way to implement this is to put in place KPIs and metrics for every project. If expectations are clearly defined throughout the process, it’s more difficult to shift blame.
3) It’s not an excuse.
Having a no-blame policy in the workplace does not mean that employees are allowed to get away with out-of-order behavior. The difference is in the response to dealing with such behavior. Instead of wasting time and effort appointing blame, issues are examined, and a clear strategy for improvement is derived.
It is not an easy feat. And ultimately, it begins with trust – from both sides.
Looking to the market, Netflix is a great example of how a large corporation is approaching this. Their Culture Deck has become an industry benchmark for how to set the tone of a workplace. They believe that trust is a two-way entity and empower their employees through this outlook. Employees are encouraged to take control of their own approach to the company, managing their own deadlines, holidays and workload.
As one of the earliest employees to join Bravo Romeo by AJ, I find myself in the fairly unique position of being able to help shape the culture of our workplace. Add to this the fact that we are a startup, it means we have carte blanche to set the tone of the company and not be tied to existing workplace policies that other more established companies are often faced with. I am determined to ensure that the company grows up with the right values, and stays true to them as we expand.
With this in mind, I believe blame to ultimately be a completely redundant emotion, both in leading a business and in life in general. It erodes collaboration and breeds toxicity. The time you spend blaming someone for something can be much better spent solving the problem, or working out how to improve in future. Here’s hoping I can learn from the stellar example that my parents set, and always practice what I preach.
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