Things go wrong in any organization. Sometimes in a very messy way! The question is not whether things will go south but what we learn from them when we do. There are three common reactions to problems when they occur. Only one of them is truly helpful.

A common response when things go south is to quickly blame someone - after all, someone must be at fault. Actually, sometimes this is true and sometimes it is not. There are times when systems need to be fixed and it is not really a people problem. However, blame is not a very helpful response (unless you have an ongoing problem with an individual) because in assigning blame one tends to ignore other factors that may have contributed to the problem. Blaming allows one to ignore other critical factors that may be present. It is a convenient response because once blame has been assigned, one can move on without critical analysis.

A second response to things going south is to simply "move on." Here there is no real analysis of the factors involved which means that leaders don't need to take any responsibility for what occurred.  This happens because leaders are either naive and believe that moving on is the best thing to do, or they don't want to look in the mirror and honestly evaluate the situation for lessons that could be learned. This is essentially a convenient non-response that simply hopes that by moving on the problem will not recur. It is also the reason that the problem will probably recur since important lessons are not learned. 

A third and the most helpful response is to do an autopsy without blame. Here, leaders intentionally ask the kinds of questions that can help them understand why what happened happened and what they can learn from it. Questions like: What contributed to this situation?; What could we have done differently?; What do we need to do differently in the future?; What lessons can we learn so that we grow as an organization?; How do we process the constituency in an honest way?; - all evaluative questions designed to learn from the situation.

This is not about blame but about learning and growing. In fact, the lack of "blame" and the refusal to just "move on" gives leaders the opportunity to grow from the experience. Bad things will happen. The question is whether we will learn and grow from them or repeat them. 
  • Jul 30, 2011
  • Category: News
  • Comments: 0
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