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 wasn't my fault!"), our employees do it ("I could have had it finished if only I'd 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 stay low (to keep out of the crossfire). While blame can be deferred, 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 that caused the mishap it will most likely continue to happen – each time becoming more acceptable than the last because someone will always do something to “work around” the problem and a change of direction may never be needed.
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 all with the opportunity to learn and succeed (EVEN IF an individual may need to learn differently than we think or their idea of success is not the same as ours).
Our schools have taken the major step towards "inclusiveness" when educating children. 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) level, classrooms are "blended to better reflect the environment that will be experienced in real life." We make sure that kids are SOCIALLY adjusted so they can get along with others - but at what cost? Why be the "good kid" when those creating havoc are the ones receiving all the attention in an attempt to bolster their self-esteem or show them that someone cares? Why do we reward improvement, progress and attempts rather than achievement, conclusion or results? Are we rewarding bad behavior when we lavish praise on the disrupters trying to get them to change or are we encouraging good behavior when we do not pay attention to those achieving on their own (since they do not need the help)? Who gets most of your time and attention – the one doing all that is expected or the one needing constant attention and continuous reminders as to what needs doing next? Our continuous excusing 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 because we are unwilling to identify and address inadequacies along the way (sometimes out of fear of discrimination, unequal treatment or just plain aversion to confrontation). I once knew of an employee who had excellent technical skills but could not supervise people (he continued to be the doer rather than the leader after he was promoted to supervision). 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 – leaving behind a sigh of relief but inflicting an undocumented problem upon the next individual expected to lead the person. Though we may not intentionally reward someone for acting poorly, accepting the results of negative behavior without consequences is no different than rewarding the negative behavior – in some cases “omission” is the same as “commission.” Supervisors often look the other way when employees make mistakes because it is far easier to accept and “cover” for another than it is to correct and establish firm expectations. Employees (or people) do not, however, initiate behavioral change without first feeling a little pain of reproach – a conundrum created by silent acceptance of inadequate behavior rather than specific correction of unacceptable actions.
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 of the policy and any behavioral change expected to embrace a change of culture. 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 (AND that the correct course of action will become the norm of the future). Do not excuse bad behavior - embrace the learning that comes from making mistakes. We must acknowledge that nobody can stand up without first falling down and nobody can run without first walking. When actions are overly regulated, we penalize individuals making a mistake by removing their opportunity to change – to learn from failure. 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. We must not, however, allow an inappropriate action or unacceptable result to continue once corrected.
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 the shortcomings of others – and allow others to do the same. We tend to receive no more than we expect of others nor ultimately achieve any 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 behavior to make sure a mistake becomes “the exception” rather than the “rule.” People can learn from their mistakes and move forward IF confronted when the behavior occurs. They can contribute mightily to their personal growth and success when given acceptable alternatives and their actions are monitored to make sure change happens.