Who’s to blame? Well not me. Or, shall we start afresh in 2013?

January 2013 Newsletter

Change is ever present and even more rapid than in years gone by. Not just technological change but people’s expectations of the world we live in and the economic times that affect us all. In the book “Ending the blame culture” first published in 1998 by Michael Peran, Chris Mulrooney and Tim Payne, they describe the importance and value of learning from mistakes. After reading many books on the subject of change, learning and blame, for me, this is still one of the best books around.

I wonder how many organisations involved in so many change programmes and relaunches have really learned from their mistakes. Change is often a painful and difficult experience to start with but a valuable and rewarding one for the short and long term if learned from, rather than endured.

You can often tell how an organisation goes about working through mistakes by the type of questions it asks. If the organisation asks who did this and why did they did it, they are really looking for a scapegoat, covering each other backs or seeing who will ultimately get the blame.

Let’s ask some questions about mistakes, resolution and learning:

  • What specifically happened?
  • Where did it happen?
  • What led to the mistake?
  • Exactly what did you say or do that led to the mistake?
  • What time did the mistake occur?
  • How did you feel at the time?
  • What did you do after the mistake happened?
  • On reflection, what have you discovered?
  • What learning came from the discovery?
  • What have you done to prevent this mistake from happening again?
  • What pattern, if any, can you see from this mistake?
  • How does this mistake help you in the future?
  • What do you intend to start, stop and continue doing as a result of this mistake?

The questions usually start with what or how. This is a common approach when coaching that helps to uncover what is happening by being curious and seeking to gain an insight rather than attribute fault.

The New Year is often a time for resolutions and starting afresh, so let’s start by not being so quick to blame, but by understanding what has happened and what we can really do to learn from mistakes, small and large. Let’s foster curiosity, trust and disclosure.

So as leaders in organisations who show the way, perhaps an admission of our own mistakes might be a way of starting. A common approach used from productivity and performance improvement is to ask why five times. This gets back to the root cause of a problem or mistake, it also helps us see beyond the blame and into the real gains that are to be had inside organisations.