What's the Problem?

The Power of Understanding Where to Assess Blame

I was working with a young business owner last week on tightening up some of the systems within their business. While we were reviewing some of the tasks one of his employees was supposed to complete, he became increasingly frustrated. “Why would she ever do that?!” He exclaimed. “That’s idiotic!”

He was fed up.

He thought he had adequately delegated these tasks. But his expectations weren’t aligned with her expectations. So the system broke down. Unfortunately, his go-to criticism was his team member. He got upset, she became upset, and the problem wasn’t  solved. I’ll share the outcome of their story a little later in this article, but first some problem/solution theory…

This is tough medicine for the inexperienced leader. We’ve all had a task or project that we’ve delegated only to find that our employee with whom we’ve trusted wasn’t able to complete it to our standards. It is easy to look for the immediate cause and point the finger. This was the task, that person didn’t do it - they are to blame. However, every time we blame an employee publicly, we sacrifice the respect we’ve earned as a leader. Every time we blame an employee privately, we leave them worse off to grow in their abilities.

The fact remains that there is a problem. The task wasn’t completed - and businesses run on the trust that work will be completed by each of the various team members. So where should the blame go?

Weak leaders blame people.

The first impulse for many is to point the finger in blame. But as my grandmother used to say, three fingers are pointing back at you. As a leader or boss, we must take responsibility and only use blame when it is effective to increase our teams understanding. Blame often turns to shame and is never productive in changing behavior.

Inexperienced leaders blame the task.

So then the problem is with the task, right?! They didn’t know how to complete the task. Let’s write up more procedures and give the task to a better-equipped person. Sometimes, but individuals are incredibly capable when they have the tools they need and proper training.

Unsure leaders blame themselves.

I love it when I’m the problem - there is nothing that I can control more than my own actions and behavior. But unsure leaders beware, blame won't help motivate you either. Just as blame shames the employee, it does the same for the leader. Shame and growth can’t coexist. Your responsibility has to take your perspective to a higher level.

Learning leaders blame the training.

The learning leader will correctly look toward training to fix the problem. Training is an integral part of a system. The combination of training and documentation are huge contributors toward the success of an employee or task. But two question remain:

  • Should the task even exist?
  • Or should it be further simplified?

Wise leaders blame the system.

Fixing problems in the above areas can chip away at problems, decreasing them little by little. Looking at the overall system - the inputs, triggers, steps, and outputs - will make huge, meaningful transformations.

There isn’t always time to change the systems we use. But over time, if we aren’t focusing on evolving our systems we will fall behind. Focusing on systems is valuable because it is here that we can change everything. Systems are the 30,000-foot view of your business operations. Sometimes we don’t need our people to do better; sometimes we need to remove complexity and worry from their tasks.

Systems can do this.

Whenever there are problems or an undesirable outcome, tweaking the system will solve it.
Wherever there is waste or inefficiency, tweaking the system will solve it.
Whoever is originally to blame, tweaking the system will make everything better.

You might be wondering the outcome to my client’s story. Once they pulled back and looked at the system, the entire job could be automated. What was once a tedious, error-prone task could be simplified within their existing software and services. So the team member was reassigned to work she enjoyed much better, and our business owner never had to worry about the task going undone ever again.

Their success story perfectly embodies Peter Drucker’s quote "There is nothing so useless as doing efficiently that which should not be done at all.”

What kinds of tasks or problems are you facing within your company? Have you blamed someone, been blamed, or blamed yourself for a task that ought to be systemized?