Fix The Problem, Not The Blame

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Ethan Banks is really turning out some good blog posts as of late.  His latest one about failure in particular really got me to thinking.  You should head over and read it before you continue.

After I read through Ethan’s post, I started thinking about why people tend to shift responsibility and fire up the “blamethrower” from time to time.  It reminded me of Rising Sun, a movie based on a Michael Crichton book of the same name.  The movie in particular stands out to me because of a quote from Sean Connery:

“The Japanese have a saying: ‘Fix the problem, not the blame.’ Find out what’s [screwed] up and fix it.  Nobody gets blamed.  We’re always after who [screwed] up.  Their way is better.”

This is the kind of thing that leads to people shirking failure.  People are so worried about getting blamed for things that they won’t admit to them.  Whether it be for something simple like misspelling someone’s name or something major like crashing the core router, people don’t want to get blamed.  Most of the time, I can’t fault them for that.  Think about what happens when something goes wrong.  More often than not someone higher up in the organization starts head hunting.  They stalk the halls asking, “Whose fault is this? I want them in my office now!”  How many times have you seen a situation where yelling at the responsible party took precedence over fixing things?  As a VAR providing support to multiple different types of customers, I can tell you that I’ve witnessed first hand several occasions where my job couldn’t begin until the responsible parties were dealt with.  Precious seconds and minutes can tick by while blame is appropriately assigned.

Personally, I take the opposite approach to things.  When I find myself in a situation of troubleshooting or solving problems, I make sure that blame is the last thing that is discussed.  When the CxO comes stalking through the office looking for someone to yell at, I always make sure to direct attention away from the people doing the work.  In my mind, the key to any successful problem resolution lies not in assigning blame but in fixing the problem.  After the crisis is over and cooler heads are prevalent is the time to begin examining causes discussing resolutions to prevent repeat performances.  The above quote from Rising Sun not only reflects my views about the uselessness of blame in a professional environment but serves to show how useful and refreshing fixing problems can be.  At times, I even assume more blame than necessary if it means moving things along.  My goal as a network engineer is problem resolution, not blame assignment.  That’s not to say that I won’t give someone a stern reprimand if necessary.  I’d just rather not have that happening in the heat of the moment when the network team is trying their best to keep the core from melting into a pile of slag.

To be an effective problem solver, make sure to focus all your efforts on fixing the problems.  By forcing all the stakeholders to expend their efforts on the real source of stress, your reputation will grow into something amazing.  People will talk about your ability to solve any problem.  They’ll comment that you’re cool under pressure and great at motivating people when things are at their worst.  You’ll be known as the person that solves problems quickly and makes sure that your team knows what went wrong to prevent it from happening in the future.  These are all very desired traits for people in a troubleshooting capacity.  They can all be yours provided you spend your time looking at the real issues and not worrying about those that are generated from them.

5 thoughts on “Fix The Problem, Not The Blame

  1. I used to work for a large financial services company where I saw first hand the detrimental effects of “blamestorming.” So counterproductive and demoralizing. Most people don’t screw up intentionally and the “Beatings will continue until morale improves” mantra only works for so long.

  2. I work in an environment now that is *SO* risk-averse for exactly this reason (someone gets fired after every major outage) that no-one will even upgrade hardware.

    As a result I’m working on a Solaris7 box that was originally commissioned in the late 90’s. No-one is willing to put their neck out and upgrade it.

    I need a new job.

  3. Pingback: Security’s Secret Shame | The Networking Nerd

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