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17 January 2019
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Never mind apportioning blame; just sort it

12 November 2012 

Over recent years there seems to have developed a huge blame culture; it’s always someone else’s fault when things go wrong and the desire to point fingers is very strong.

When you look at cases such as the Olympic security or West Coast Main Line contracts we can all see that there have been apparent failures, but try to cut through all of the media and political rhetoric and what do you actually have?

Not a lot in most cases other than that fingers have been pointed at certain parties and they have been pilloried by people whose only knowledge is what they have read or heard and trial by media, whether social or other, has become the norm. That isn’t a good basis for improving things though, even if it does provide a topic of conversation.

Back in the real world of leading and managing we are going to come across problems; things will go wrong, or at least not to plan, because we don’t live in a perfect world. As much as we try to mitigate and eliminate risk there is still the possibility of something putting a spanner in the works and one of the key skills for any leader or manager is being able to react in the right way when there is a problem.

That skill gets honed over time as we live through a few screw ups and things that went bump in the night and we plan things better and better, anticipating what might be lurking in the dark waiting to make life difficult and there are many people around who have this sort of thing down to a fine art.

But what about when we do have one of those big fowl ups, and in this I’m allowing an element of scale, for a big issue for one may be nothing to worry about for another. Well the thing to do is to take it calmly for a start; you can always go somewhere private and scream, bang your head on the wall or otherwise get it out of your system, but don’t do that where anyone is watching.

If you want to avoid whatever sort of problem has arisen in the future you first need to know what happened, and finding that out is a lot easier if you take a measured approach.

This isn’t to say that, in some circumstances, a disciplinary matter might arise because that is always possible, but there needs to be a careful process of gathering information from as many relevant sources as you can establish and then comparing what you have to see whether or not you have a clear picture emerging or not, and you probably won’t have a pin sharp one, even from the people who were directly involved.

If there has been some technical failure then there might be a certain fact or two there that you can rely on, but it will not always tell you why.

Facts are not the whole truth and sometimes can be misleading; circumstantial evidence for example and it may be that you can never discover the real truth of why something had happened, but you may have to make a decision so to have as much evidence as you can gather will help you be as right as you can be.
Sorting out problems is not about lynch mobs, it’s about improving.

As a leader you have to be able to deliver good solutions and in the case of something having gone wrong, your decisions may have to be tough, but should always be fair.

John Bowen is an FM consultant

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