The blame culture: A silent killer of creativity

“To err is human”, so they say. So why do organisations and employees look for someone to condemn and blame whenever the actual outcome differs from the expected outcome? Why do people jump on the bandwagon of looking for the perceived “culprit” before understanding the reasons for the error? How much energy do organisations expend on understanding the issues and the reasons for the deviation in comparison to the energy expended on endless gossips even long after the event? What efforts do organisations expend on castigation of the employee involved in comparison to improving the process, the products and the people?

Whilst the purpose of the article is not to proffer solutions to the culture of blame and its impact on creativity, it is hoped that it will serve as a reminder to managers and decision makers of the impact on employees based on first-hand experience.

There are very few professional roles where creativity and innovation are not required. Although in a lot of organisations, processes and procedures are often documented in order for: repeatability, standardisation, to reduce errors, optimisation etc. However, no matter the level of documentation, there will be occasions where there is a deviation in the input which may warrant an employee to be creative and innovative. Whilst it is ok to follow processes and procedures that have been utilised umpteen times to the letter, the lack of creativity and innovation on the part of the employee carrying out such processes and procedures eliminates improvement.

The attributes of organisations and the attitudes of employees (with the consequences) where there is an insidious culture of blame are discussed below:

  • Lack of openness / concealment. The employees seem to be unwilling to disclose information. They are reluctant to question the status quo. Consequently, the organisation becomes stagnant.
  • Fear of deviation from process. The employees are paralysed by fear of outcomes, and in order to ensure the blame game does not enrobe them, they stick to their guns even when they know the procedures and processes are bound to fail. A common phrase you will hear employees repeat is: “I will do it as long as a document says so, even if I know the process / procedure is wrong.” Following processes to the letter is indeed mandatory, even more so in environments where safety is paramount e.g. aviation, nuclear industries etc. However, the phrase “even if I know the process / procedure is wrong” is the real cause for concern and worry.
  • Inefficiency. The levels of inefficiency in such organisations are really astounding. The processes and procedures are never really improved; continuous improvement is not a phrase that .is used in such organisations. No one is willing to take ownership and identify areas of improvement for fear of being the culprit if there is a failure.
  • Reduced staff morale. There is a general lack of sense of accomplishment for those employees who like to challenge themselves. The employees also tend to be dissatisfied, unhappy and unmotivated.

Although the elimination of the culture of blame from human thinking and human is almost unachievable, we can reduce the impact of the insidious culture in the organisation by starting with removing all references to: who did what; who did not do what; who should have done what; who should not have done what; during the root cause diagnosis.

In conclusion, creativity and innovation come with risk; mistakes will be made and there will be failures. If you want to kill creativity & innovation in your organisation, sow the seed of a blame culture and nurture it. #Innovation #creativity

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