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A Dangerous Dichotomy: How We Blind Ourselves When We Blame


A friend of mine works for a large American insurance company. A few years ago, an employee caused an outage costing the company a million dollars an hour in downtime. Four hours (and $4 million) later, the issue was resolved.

Called before a board of VP’s to explain the events — well, mostly the cost — my friend was asked whether he would now fire the employee? “Fire Him?” he asked surprised, “we just spent $4 million ensuring we never do this again.”

It is easy to blame faults on employees.

Let me give you another scenario.

Imagine John is late to work. You may think to yourself; “John is lazy,” or “John is unable to manage his time,” or “John cannot take responsibility.”

The blame always falls on who John is.

Now, imagine you are late. You think to yourself; “My car battery was flat,” or “The traffic was a nightmare,” or “My kids are having trouble at school and only told me this morning.”

The blame always falls on your circumstances.

Here’s the truth: We blame our circumstances for our failures, while we blame the character of others for their failure.

This is a dangerous dichotomy.

We blame our failures on our circumstances while blaming other’s failures on their character.

Employees are always to blame because they failed. We assume they are at fault. We often do not dig into circumstances surrounding any failure.

We will never help employees exceed expectations if our default belief contains suspicion regarding their character.

Learn to dig deeper and look a little wider.

The $4 million outage occurred because of a systems fault any employee could have triggered. The unlucky employee of the day did cost the company in finances and downtime. However, He also saved the company the potential of millions more in damages by learning how to fix the problem and training others in the department too.

Stop blaming your employees’ character. Start working with them in search of solutions.

You hired good people. If mistakes happen, join with them in exploring circumstances, managing environments and pursuing future excellence — together.