Blame Culture & Leadership

Blame culture is a description given to an organisation in which people are blamed for mistakes. This contrasts with those in which the problem leading to a mistake is identified and improvements are made.

A good way of detecting a blame culture is to see what happens when a senior person detects the mistake. If they ask "Who" (rather than "What" or "How") you may be seeing evidence of a blame culture.

The difficulty with blame cultures is that people often begin to fear being blamed. They stop taking risks, making suggestions or trying things new. When that happens, the pace of change and improvement slows down and the organisation ceases to offer anything new to its customers.

Blame cultures often reflect poor leadership. Autocratic leaders often resort to blaming others when things go wrong, rather than taking responsibility for all that happens.

The worst blame culture I ever worked in was a company in which everyone feared the Chief Executive. Even a call from his PA was enough to strike dread into the hearts of experienced professionals. I was once called to his office at thirty minutes notice to outline my plans for the next eighteen months. It didn't matter that I was meeting with a key customer. This man was a bully. He revelled in his power over others and hired and fired at will. If something went wrong, he asked "Who is to blame" and often fired them. So, problems were never really addressed or solved.

The opposite of a blame culture is a problem solving culture. In a problem solving culture people feel able to offer ideas, highlight issues, put suggestions forward. When something goes wrong, the question is "How did that happen and what can we do about it?"

What happend to me in the blame culture organisation? I was asked to move to a new location, to take on more responsibilities with a promotion and more money. I chose to leave!

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