Posted on October 19, 2009 · Posted in Uncategorized

Whose Fault Is It, Anyway?

We live in a culture of blame.

How often do we find ourselves observing a poor outcome and asking, “Whose fault is this?”

In a Lean culture, we need to adopt a different attitude. We need to see ourselves from the CUSTOMER’s eyes. To them, we’re one team. In their eyes, we win as a team and we lose as a team. The pain of defeat should sting us all equally, but it shouldn’t cause us to turn in on ourselves and look for who’s at fault.

Any good sports team concentrates on winning. If they lose, the following practice is more intense and concentrates on the areas where the team executed poorly. Good teams don’t isolate individual members to ridicule. If an individual didn’t execute their role well, that person gets additional training. They train until they execute flawlessly.

The other thing good teams do is to share the limelight when they succeed. How often do you hear a volleyball player say something like: “That slam worked because my teammate set me perfectly.” How often do you hear a quarterback say something along the line of: “Did you see my teammate catch that pass? Was that awesome or what? There aren’t two other guys in the league who could have done that.” How often to you hear a coach after a winning game say something like, “We executed flawlessly. We functioned like a well oiled machine.”

If good teams find each other succeeding, shouldn’t we?

Lean cultures don’t leave it up to the individual to find others succeeding. They institutionalize the practice. They create a tool to do it.

I toured a national dental insurance office that had institutionalized the practice of catching one another succeeding by creating a form that they left to the employees to fill out. The form was simple. Employees were invited to find things that their colleagues had done well and to compliment them in writing. In the employee cafeteria was a cork board on which the top sheet of the two-part form was pinned. The other part went went into the praised employee’s personnel file. That’s the file that the employee’s manager read in preparation for reviewing the employee’s performance.

I read the notes on the board. One thanked a companymate for changing a tire for them in the employee parking lot. Another expressed appreciation for help resolving a work-related problem. Another showed gratitude to an employee who had loaned them an umbrella on on a particularly nasty night. It turned out that the form wasn’t used exclusively for work-related compliments, but can you see how it was changing how employees felt about each other? Do you think that had positive consequences on the greater culture and the individual working relationships?

What this firm had done had been to create a way for employees to find each other succeeding. Then leaders made that success public, further driving the behavior deeper in the organizational psyche.

I observed an Army Brigade whose annual maintenance scores were pitiful. Rather than rant, the Brigade commander established an award. He went to a motor pool where he rescued a wrench that was no longer serviceable, but which still looked good. He took it home, spray painted it gold and mounted it to a wooden plaque.

He then created a group of his Brigade’s maintenance personnel who conducted surprise maintenance audits every month. The Battalion with the highest score received the plaque in a public ceremony. At that ceremony, he praised the unit’s leader and especially the unit’s maintenance personnel.

In less than a year, his Brigade went from being dead last in the division to being at the top.

The award might have cost $10, but it was the public (and positive) recognition that proved to be what changed the brigade’s state of maintenance. This commander’s Brigade functioned better in the field, too. It turns out that his soldiers felt he cared about them and that dramatically improved their morale and performance.

It’s amazing what we can do when we turn from a culture of blame and begin looking for ways to catch our folks succeeding.

Whose fault is it? It’s all our fault.

Let’s quickly get to the root cause of our problems and correct them; then, let’s concentrate on accentuating good performance and training poor performance.