Monday 25 October 2010

The no-blame society? Not by a long way!

Told you so
Originally uploaded by Violator3

We all know the importance of a no-blame culture when it comes to promoting learning and reflection.

A no-blame culture in an organisation allows people to open up about their mistakes, to understand the root causes, to identify the learning points, to take the learning actions, and so ensure that the mistake is never made again.

A no-blame culture is just about possible to achieve in an organisation, witness the story below

"Warren Bennis wrote about a promising junior executive at IBM who was involved in a risky venture for the company and ended up losing ten million dollars in the gamble. He was called into the office of Tom Watson Sr., the founder and leader of IBM for forty years, a business legend. The junior exec, overwhelmed with guilt and fear, blurted out: 'I guess you've called me in for my resignation. Here it is. I resign.' Watson replied, 'You must be joking. I have just invested ten million dollars educating you; I can't afford your resignation'."

You can imagine the result - firstly a culture that rewards learning, and secondly an executive who will never make that mistake again.

Now imagine that happening in the public sector, or in public life.

Imagine the government minister (congresman) who makes a massive mistake. The school principal who narrowly averts a risk to the children. The banker who makes an apallingly bad decision. What sort of reaction do we get?

Generally we get outrage. We get press headlines "Minister admits to mistake" - "Calls for Principal to resign" - "Greedy bankers to face sack". We get hate mail, we get boycotts, we get blame in abundance. Never do we see the sort of response we saw above from Tom Watson. Never does the press or the public say "that Minister/CEO/Principal may have made a mistake, but they have learned, and will never do that again". No, we get blame.

And worse than that - with blame comes litigation. "You screwed up, you must suffer, and I will sue your ass".

So which minister, which principal, which CEO is going to openly analyse their mistakes, and draw out the learning points? Who is going to say, "with hindsight, we could have done it better"? Instead, so long as public enquiries are witchhunts and blamestorms, then mistakes are hidden, people shift the blame onto each other, and learning never happens.

One day, hopefully, we will have a no blame society that promotes public learning. But we are a long way from that day. While there is a blame culture, there is no learning culture.

So what do you want to do?


Or learn?

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