I wrote this in 2017. Substitute Trump for Obama and then Biden for Trump.
Blame has become a big part of how the world conducts itself. For example, in the United States, a large part of the country spent 8 years blaming Democrats and President Obama for anything that went wrong. Those who were happy with President Obama now place a lot of their attention on the failings of President Trump and decisions he has made and the behaviors he has engaged in. Both sides have outsourced their attention to people who have little to do with their day-to-day lives but the result has been that blame Is now part of process review in many organizations.
For example, when reviewing decisions that did not work out, many firms want to meticulously review how a decision was made, step by step, inch by inch, in order to blame someone, rather than review it for how it can be done better. You can tell that blame is the intention when you see firms fire people, reduce bonuses, or pass people up for promotions for having had the courage to approve something that didn’t work out.
As a result, people learn to play it safe and take no risk whatsoever and that affects corporate performance.
After all, if something doesn’t work out, someone must be WRONG! They Must Be Blamed! They Must Be Held Accountable! Accountability becomes he knife of punishment rather than the tool of learning. The person who did this was wrong! They must be punished! An example must be made of them so that no one EVER does something like this again!
Let is all shun them, kick them to the curb, humiliate the person so that no one ever does something that fails again!
I want to pause for a moment because I am sure some of you are starting to think that malfeasance should result in this type of response and I agree with you. If an organization finds someone embezzling money, stealing someone’s life savings or some other criminal act, by all means, blame and legal repercussions should occur.
However, too often organizations are homogenized into safe conduct that results in fear of loss, rather than an ambitious drive for success. How did safety become so important? How did we learn to be so bland and mediocre?
I know parents are a big part of how I learned to go for safety but I also learned risk from my Dad. My parents were immigrants who met in a camp in Siberia during World War II and came to the US with little money and some family in the US. The drive for security took the form of my Dad finding “a good job” so that my parents could find the time to learn a new language, raise a family and bring the rest of my Mom’s surviving family to the US (my father’s family was killed with the exception of one brother who hid his identity and prospered in Poland).
Safe choices became essential under those conditions and understandably. Yet there was a point where my father faced a choice—the family-owned business he worked for was about to go out of business because of an accounting mistake. The owner was ready to throw in the towel. My Dad took over and paid off the creditors and grew it in ways that allowed him to be an American success.
The bookkeeper who made the mistake was not an embezzler. She made a mistake (in contrast, later in his professional life, he did catch an embezzler, went to her and said so simply, “You are going to pay back every cent you stole from me or today will be your last day of freedom.”).
Today, the first bookkeeper would have been fired for incompetence despite 30 years of effort. Blame would have been assigned, the stories told in the small office would have allowed them to determine exactly who erred and how. No one would have remembered the 30 years of work (and at most companies today, she would never have been allowed to work there for 30 years).
Look at how managers think of employees post-hire. The statistics indicate almost two-thirds of hiring managers have buyer’s remorse within one year of hiring someone. They regret hiring that person but do nothing to improve how they hire, preferring instead to blame the new hire for what has happened, rather than themselves for the choice and the process failures that resulted in the bad hire.
American cultural stories involve great risk-takers. Today, we point to Steve Jobs, Michael Dell, Mark Zuckerberg, and Larry Ellison from the tech world. In the 19th Century, it was the Vanderbilts, Kennedys, and Rockefellers who took risks at pulled-off success.
Today, unless mistakes are treated with the intense scrutiny that trains people early on that mistakes will be punished. We still act with an industrial attitude toward employees tolerating zero defects from them, expecting perfection when that is impossible
We want to blame others for our circumstances, rather than take responsibility for our own choices. We wind up miserable.
Someone once pointed out to me that when we point at someone else there are three fingers pointed back at ourselves. I think many of us need that reminder.
© The Big Game Hunter, Inc. Asheville, NC 2017
Jeff Altman, The Big Game Hunter is a coach who worked as a recruiter for what seems like one hundred years. His work involves life coaching, as well as executive job search coaching and business life coaching. He is the host of “Job Search Radio,” “No BS Job Search Advice Radio,” and his newest show, “No BS Coaching Advice.”
Are you interested in 1:1 coaching or interview coaching from me? Email me at JeffAltman@TheBigGameHunter.us and put the word, “Coaching” in the subject line.