Blame and Punishment

BLAME1Blame offers each of us the ability to offer negative praise.  While praise draws attention to something well done and worthwhile, blame assigns to a person or group negative actions or outcomes.  Blame by its nature involves one person or multiple people identifying the faults of others.  In a colorful fashion, Carl Alasko, in Beyond Blame, defines blame as “a four-headed beast that attacks with criticism, accusation, punishment, and humiliation.”

Over time, every organization develops how it deals with or the acceptable practices related to blame.   For those that succumb to blaming, larger portions of time and energy transfer from productive activities to investigating and punishing the “guilty.” Sadly, the practice of blaming like many negative behaviors spreads through an organization quickly and infects all levels as well as an organization’s culture.

Most organizations possess one of the three types of “blame” culture.

The first type focuses on allocating blame downward.  We have all worked places where the leadership constantly finds reasons for blaming shortcomings on staff.  Many times, these cultures exhibit a high level of toxicity and encourage a “CYA” mentality where employees abstain from risk taking, practice passive aggressive behaviors, and focus on defending their actions.

The second type reverses the direction of the blame.  In this culture, the employees blame operational failure, disengagement, and dissatisfaction on leaders.  This culture adopts a victim mentality in almost every situation, ignores any sense of accountability, and discourages any type of cross-level teamwork.

The last type of culture opts to blame no one.  The “blame free” culture centers on finding solutions and not investigating for the sake of punishing those that created the current situation.  The cause provides the basis to develop a solution, but needs to weighed to determine if necessity of punishment.  Not every negative situation requires that someone be identified, embarrassed, and punished.

Keeping this in mind, most successful organizations focus on cause-solution relationship and not the cause-punishment dyad.  It is important to note, a solution-based approach does not preclude taking swift and decisive corrective action when needed. If the solution to prevent future issues warrants strong action, a “blame free” culture demands that it occurs.

We all make mistakes. Yet, blaming others operates like always bring up problems while never offering a solution.  Although it is human nature to want to transfer the reasons for failures to others, we have to start with ourselves.  Moreover, the more overwhelming the problem, the critical the need for a  solution.

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