The Blame Game

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The topic of “blaming” comes up in today's Wall St. Journal and this week's Dilbert strips. Blame has been in the forefront of the Hurricane Katrina “analysis” and follow up. The WSJ article says, in part, that people have evolved biologically to have a strong ability to blame:

“Often, we blame because we lack the skills to problem-solve. ‘Blame is about the past, and about words. Problem-solving focuses on the future and is about actions,' says Cathryn Bond Doyle, a communications counselor in Medford, N.J. She encourages executives to ask: Where do we want our company to go, and do we have the right people to get there? It's more productive to evaluate and recalibrate than to mercilessly judge someone's past actions, or to demonize them, she says.”

In the case of Katrina, particularly with the emergency planning (or lack thereof, or lack of execution) and the lack of levee maintenance/funding/building, that the failures are systemic and complicated.

But do people and the media want? They want blame. They want individual people (the list is long) to say “I take responsibility.” I think it's tough for people to get their minds around systemic failures. It always has to be someone's fault.

Is that true in your factory? When something goes wrong, does the root cause problem solving end with, “It was Bob's fault”? How good are you at fixing things systemically? That's my challenge to think about for the day.


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Mark Graban is an internationally-recognized consultant, author, and professional speaker who has worked in healthcare, manufacturing, and startups. His latest book is Measures of Success: React Less, Lead Better, Improve More. He is author of the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, as well as The Executive Guide to Healthcare Kaizen. He also published the anthology Practicing Lean that benefits the Louise H. Batz Patient Safety Foundation, where Mark is a board member. Mark is also a Senior Advisor to the technology company KaiNexus.

1 Comment
  1. Anonymous says

    Some very interesting thoughts on the “blame game”…something we’re struggling with at my plant as we enter our 2nd year of our lean journey. I think the other piece of the puzzle that makes the “blame game” attractive is that there isn’t personal ownership. If I see/discover a systematic failure, then I’m obligated to do something about it and it’s usually a daunting task with a lot of work involved. If I can just blame it on someone else, then it’s mgmt’s job to “fix” that person/dept and I don’t have to do anything about it…but can still feel like I’ve “done my job” by pointing out the issue.

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