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Prevention, not blame

Mark Galley

The flawed logic of a blamer…and why it’s so easy to fall into

The way an organization solves problems reflects its culture.  When a problem happens in your organization is the question ‘Why did it happen?’ or ‘Who did it?’  A blame mentality focuses on the who.  We experienced this as kids.  Our parents asked ‘Who?’ to differentiate between siblings to impart valuable life lessons with appropriate consequences.  For problems at work where employees perform a wide variety of tasks, there’s much more to it than ‘Who did it?’

Asking a different question, ‘Why did it happen?’ takes some digging.  Root cause analysis digs into the details of a problem to find the most effective solutions.  The root of a problem is its source.  It’s not a single piece, but rather a system that branches into different paths.  A systems approach to problem-solving simply acknowledges the nature of problems.  They consist of multiple parts that need to be understood to identify specific corrective actions going forward.  It's not overwhelming or touchy-feely.  It is analytical and objective.

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A blame mentality doesn’t need to spend time analyzing why a problem happened.  Blamers don’t need multiple parts.  Blamers look for one cause: the person (or group) who caused it.  Blame is simple.  If the person would have just done this one thing (like I told them), the entire incident never would have occurred.  The logic seems so obvious, but it’s flawed.  Blame doesn’t explain a problem, it distorts it.  Blamers rationalize incidents like this all the time.  Blamers suffer from confirmation bias because they’re certain what they’re saying is ‘right.’

What the blamer doesn’t realize is their statement is valid, but not right.  By changing that one item the entire incident never would have occurred.  But that same argument is true for each cause of the incident – not just the one they picked.  Blame is an easy trap to fall into.  Blamers always find the evidence they need to prove they’re right.  The blamer didn’t identify ‘the cause’ of the issue, they only identified one of the causes.

Once an organization learns how to break a problem down into its parts, different solution options for mitigating risk will be revealed.  But it takes some digging.  Blamers only dig to the person or group, then stop.  When blamers mistakenly apply right-answer thinking to a systems problem they forfeit insight from the people involved in the issue.  People won’t share what they know if they think the outcome will be punitive.  Memories get fuzzy.  Responses like ‘I’m not sure’ or ‘I don’t recall’ are common.

The perception of a blame culture discourages people from sharing information.  No one wants to incriminate themselves.  Organization’s with a blame mentality don’t get people to engage like they could.  Valuable resources are being wasted.  Part of our ThinkReliability approach covers the basics a developing a prevention culture.  It takes some thinking – it’s not an app, it’s a mindset that applies to management, mid-level, technical leads, and frontline.  Attend one of our webinars or workshops to learn more.  And you can contact us if you’d like to see one of your problems dissected as a Cause Map with prevention points identified. 

Additional resources:

Review some of the root cause analysis examples on our website and let us know how we can help you with one of your safety incidents.  We can review one of your issues for you to compare what you’re doing now with what a complete cause-and-effect analysis looks like.  Contact our office for assistance.

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