Have you ever noticed that people tend to blame others much more frequently than they accept blame when something goes wrong? Our children do it ("It was not my fault!"), our employees do it ("I could have had it finished if only I had received it on time from..."), and we often even do it ourselves ("Had I done it by myself it would have been finished long ago…"). Blaming is easy. One must only open his or her mouth, shoot off a couple of random statements that shift responsibility to another, then sit back and keep out of the crossfire. While blame can be deferred, however, it does not change the fact that someone did (or did not do) something that derailed a project, process or activity. Unless (or until) we address or correct the behavior it will most likely continue to happen – each time becoming more acceptable than the last. Unless (and until) we address the behavior (action or decision) that leads one to produce poorly we will never rise above the obstacles that surround us.
Learning from the mistakes of others is easy (since there is no personal pain from their thwarted gain). Assuming accountability for our own shortcomings or failures is far more difficult. Though most people would say it is ridiculous to think that one would subject themselves to the added pressure of constantly assuming another's mistakes, think about the way that our culture has evolved. We come to the rescue of those in need. We try to create an “equal playing field” whenever possible. We reward effort rather than results. We provide limitless opportunity to succeed while sheltering, buffering or protecting from failure. How can we expect to instill a degree of accountability into others when we are unwilling to implement the “effects” that should be a direct result of their “causes?”
We teach to the masses, trying to bring all to a defined level of competency rather than pushing those capable of more to their maximum potential. Rather than grouping kids by learning (and achievement) levels, classrooms are "blended to better reflect the environment that will be experienced in real life." We make sure that kids are SOCIALLY adjusted - but at what cost? Why be the "good kid" when those creating havoc are the ones receiving all the attention? Why do we reward "improvement" or “effort” rather than "achievement?" Do our extreme inclusive and recognition efforts encourage good behavior or reward bad? Think about the ramifications of our actions - who gets most of your time and attention? Do you spend more time with those doing all that is expected or the one needing constant attention and continuous reminders as to what needs doing next? Our continuous excusing of bad behavior (or accepting a marginal result) is possibly the worst behavior we could display – and it seems to run rampant in the name of equality (rather than equity), living wages (rather than competitive market rates), and relative worth (rather than absolute value).
We tend to reward bad behavior in business, too. Sometimes individuals rise to their highest level of incompetence unless we are willing to identify and address inadequacies along the way. I once knew an employee who had excellent technical skills but could not supervise people. Rather than providing him with the tools needed to perform his job then holding him accountable for his performance, he was promoted into an upper management position so the company could retain his knowledge of the industry but “insulate him from making daily supervisory mistakes.” Failing to evaluate performance honestly – not communicating expectations and establishing consequences – often allows a person to rise within an organization by moving from one frustrated supervisor to the next. Though we may not intentionally reward someone for acting poorly, accepting the results of negative behavior without consequences unintentionally validates the poor behavior being displayed. Supervisors often look the other way when employees make mistakes but very few employees (or people) will initiate behavioral change without first feeling a little pain of reproach – a conundrum created by silent acceptance of inadequate behavior.
Everyone has rules designed to control actions, increase productivity or quality, reduce losses or provide a safe, socially acceptable environment in which to work. When writing or implementing rules, however, we should identify the intent or behavioral change expected. Before publishing the restriction, consider the “why” of a rule more than what the rule says (allows or disallows). Should a rule violation occur, we must address inappropriate or unacceptable behavior, point out what was done wrong AND detail how it could have been done correctly. In addressing an unacceptable result we must not minimize the individual responsible but cannot excuse bad behavior but rather should embrace the learning that comes from making mistakes. We must allow individuals to recognize and acknowledge the obstacles that stand between where they are and where they wish to be – and to address them (rather than simply moving around them). Pure avoidance rarely results in lasting change – the very action you wished altered often reinforced when there are no consequences.
Nobody can stand up without first falling down nor run without first walking. Why do we expect more from people in a work situation than is necessary to live and grow? When actions are overly regulated, we penalize individuals making a mistake by removing their opportunity to change – to learn from failure. Rather than being a part of the problem, address the negative actions of others (in a positive way) to become a major factor in the implementation of a solution. Learn from personal failure while remaining tolerant of shortcomings. We tend to receive no more than we expect and achieve no more than we believe possible. When we accept poor behavior (and its resulting poor performance), how can we ever expect to achieve greatness?
Identify inappropriate actions, correct them, then monitor the resultant changed behavior to make sure a mistake becomes “the exception” rather than the “rule.” People can learn from their mistakes and move forward ONLY if they are constructively confronted when the behavior occurs (AND their actions or results addressed appropriately should the behavior not change).