How to place blame

One reality TV series that I watch is “The Apprentice”. I enjoy the show up until the last 10 minutes.  Every show concludes with “the boardroom” where someone gets fired.  My stomach turns each time people in “the boardroom” are at each other’s throats, pointing fingers and casting blame.  Eventually, everyone gets eliminated from the show anyway.  So really, does all of that blaming result in much productivity or just cultivating grudges? I loved it one time, when Dee Snyder said, it seemed un-classy and it was beneath him.  I stood up in my living room and cheered out loud!

Sometimes, it seems like “the blame game” is just a fact of life.  Sooner or later, you will find yourself in that game whether you like it or not.  However, you still have the choice to not play.

Bob Baldyga was a mentor of mine.  He is the epitome of professionalism and class.  He once told me something about blame that was very profound. “When you have a failure, it is pointless to blame a person, you must blame the process.  People are inherently flawed and they will make mistakes.  You have to expect it.  Your process is the thing that is there to save people from themselves.  That is why you have/need a process.  So, when you find failure, you need to seek the flaw in the process and fix the process.  You cannot fix people. Replacing a person with another person will not yield consistent results.  The process must account for the fallibility of people and prevent failure.”

This school of thought originates from W  Edwards Deming.  Deming was the guy who tried to revolutionize the auto industry in the early 70s, but was greeted by cold shoulders in the US.  Then Deming took his processes to Japan who embraced his ideas.  As a result, companies like Toyota, Honda and Subaru were able to start kicking our butts in the auto industry, in a very short period of time.  They worked on their processes and had tremendous success.  Eventually, the US woke up and started following these principles as well.  It gave birth to programs such as ISO 9000.

So now, let me shift focus to IT work and departments that I have worked-in.  You could say that I have been invited to play “the blame game” a few times.  When fingers start pointing, it gets really hard to take the high-road and not join-in.  The inspirational words of Mr. Baldyga kept me strong and resolute. I blame the process, not the person.

Of course, if there is no process, it doesn’t make sense to anyone, you smart-alec.  How can you blame something that doesn’t exist?  Then you point out that there should be a process.  Unfortunately, everyone thinks it is a cue to resume with the finger-pointing.  “Yeah, why is it that we don’t have a process yet?  Whose job was that? …” Gah.  This is going to take a while.

If you ever want things to be reliable, you need to work on your process.  Your first step should be to write down what you are currently doing and start doing it, consistently.  This reminds me of another valuable quote: “The two habits of highly successful consultants: 1) have a plan.  2) stick to the plan.”

At this point, you will often meet with resistance at Step 1.  Some people have convinced themselves that it is a good idea to “think on their feet” and [having a plan] will stifle creativity.  They say, “Look at innovative places like Apple or Google.  They are successful because they broke the mold and are constantly thinking outside of the box”.  However that is a fallacy.  In reality, the biggest and most successful people/organizations are still in existence solely because of planning and structure.  Without them, they would collapse.  Any organization can only grow “so big” without rules, organization and structure.  Those rules have to throttle and insulate against the destructive forces that come as a result of creativity and innovation.  It is their processes that save them from self-destruction as they grow.

I’m not saying that you must apply this to everything that you do.  If you are fooling around with some small stuff and the outcome doesn’t really matter, then go ahead and wing it.  That’s fun.  However, if you are doing some serious work and you don’t have much tolerance for mistakes, you can’t seriously think that “winging it” is going to work out every time.  It will come back to bite you someday and it usually doesn’t pick a convenient day or hour.

So next time somebody screws up, if you really want to fix things permanently, be sure to place blame correctly.  And always stay classy.

About Tim Golisch

I'm a geek. I do geeky things.
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