7 Costs of Blame

Blame, it’s a bad thing—and it takes on many forms. Here’s a humorous one:

An executive at a medical products distribution organization told me, “So, yeah, we’ve got some problems, like our field salespeople calling our headquarters the ‘sales prevention club’!”

Hey, a new acronym—the SPC!

If we didn’t have the home office getting in our way, we could make more sales!

Blame can also take on the dangerous form of culprit-seeking questions like:

“Who dropped the ball?”

“Who made the mistake?”

“Who made that stupid decision?”

“Who hired these people?!?”

Blame circleNo matter the form, let’s be clear: Blame is bad, blame is costly. Let’s make a list …

The Costs of Blame:

  • Destroys morale
  • Reduces creativity
  • Lowers productivity
  • Increases fear
  • Drives wedges between colleagues
  • Breaks down teams 

And, The Big One:

Hind-sighting = blame. And blame solves no problems.

When we did our “gentle rewrite” of the QBQ! book, we added some FAQs. Here’s one and how we answered it. I think this Q&A sums it all up:

Q: If we can’t use the word “Who,” then how can we have a discussion of what went wrong?

A: There should be conversation around problems and how they occurred, but “whodunit” questions are almost never about solving problems. They’re about finding a culprit. “Who made the mistake?” implies that the entire story behind the problem is what one person did in that moment, but that’s almost never the full story. Yes, they did it, but what motivated them to do it? What was the situation at the time? What had they been told? How were they trained? Were they being managed well? When problems are explored in a healthy fashion, good questions are asked. We call them QBQs:

“How can I help improve our processes?” or “What can I do to discover what contributed to this?” are far better questions than, “Who did it?!”

Blame. Easy to engage in, commonplace, costly—and there’s no defending it.

The solution is practicing PERSONAL ACCOUNTABILITY.

It’s just as simple as that!

For Comment and Discussion:

In your opinion, what others costs of blame are there? Is there blame going on in your organization? What’s it costing … you?

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21 Responses

  1. This is an area that I work on everyday with the team. When we look at an issue, I always say, “What can I do better?” It takes the focus off the “person” they are trying to blame and then the team focuses more on the issue. We’ve had a few successes lately in resolving issues and then “coaching” the person to help him and her improve the next time, with no blaming. John’s right folks —- this information and style works!

  2. This article comes at a great time. Just this morning, the elderly owner of our company brought me an issue to look into to see if either employee A or employee B made the error in double paying an invoice. He was not interested in talking about how we can prevent this from happening in the future, he only wants to know WHO made the error. I’m using this as the opener for our staff meeting tomorrow. I will not be placing the blane on either of the employees, just offering the solution to fix the problem.

  3. I wrote a poem about blame:

    You can point your finger at the White House,

    Or the houses high up on the hills.

    You can point your finger anywhere you want,

    But BLAME won’t pay your bills.

  4. I worked for someone once who was known for having a terrible temper. Whenever something didn’t go right, he was looking for someone to blame in very public settings. Lord help you if you were the one in the cross hairs. Instead of looking at how we could fix and move beyond/avoid the problem the next time, it was an extended session of bullying and browbeating. The effects of that were that the environment was septic and filled with fear. In fact, it was commonplace for some to throw others “under the bus” to save their own skin.

    I learned a valuable lesson in the process of my very short time with that organization: fix the problem and don’t just fail the person. Certainly people need to be addressed about their actions. However, as a leader I need to do that privately and focus on moving us forward as a team.

  5. John – You couldn’t have been more right. Experience tells me that the blame game kills creativity. When we have to concentrate on protecting ourselves, it takes away all of the energy that I want to spend on being more creative and solving more problems. All I do is manage the problems that I have and make sure that I keep getting the work off my desk and onto someone else’s.

    Thanks for the ‘gentle’ reminder.

  6. Blame is lethal and agonizing. I was in an corporate environment and it was so depressing one fine day when I quit and started my own company. But then I was dumbfounded to realize I could be very creative in doing lot of things that gave me immense joy and pleasure. I have thought I should have done this 10 years ago! No fear, No depression just loving life!! Escaping from the blame game could enhance ones life!

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