Since our childhoods, we’re taught that our actions have repercussions, a cause-and-effect relationship that ends most often in a punishment of some sort. No TV tonight. Grounded for a week. No screen time over the weekend.
It’s the way parents teach children the importance of consequences so they can learn to see that their errors lead to unpleasant conclusions.
But we’re not children anymore.
And yet the prevalence of laying blame on people in the workplace still follows that mindset. When you make an error, you are reprimanded for it, which can take the shape of a formal notice or warning or (as most often happens) taking the blame for a whole project failing and living with the skewed glances and hushed conversations that follow you for a month until someone else messes up.
That’s the reality of so many workplaces, where a blame culture leads to inhibited conservatism, where nothing is ventured and innovation isn’t even considered.
That doesn’t sound all that appealing, does it?
So how can we do better? How can we encourage accountability without risking it becoming a blame game?
By adopting a no-blame culture, where we ask “What caused this problem?” instead of “Who caused this problem?” and fix the system together.
When did we grow tired of the blame game?
The origin of the no-blame culture lies in high-reliability organizations (HROs) and scenarios where errors can be catastrophic. Hospitals, submarines, airlines – all of these environments are built on no-blame principles, where the objective is to mitigate the impact of errors and not find someone to blame them on.
In these industries, errors have to be reported immediately to avoid catastrophe, where the wrong dosage of medicine or incorrect coordinate calculations can lead to the loss of life. Because of the high stakes, any deficiencies that could lead to errors in the future are also reported and addressed as soon as they are identified.
While the impact of errors isn’t as apparent at times, companies working in the bulk and wholesale industries fall in the same boat. But for companies like importers and suppliers, the impact of errors is often only felt months after the initial error was made. That’s why bulk importers and wholesale suppliers can’t operate in an environment where employees are too afraid to report errors.
All of these industries and cultures accept that occasional errors occur and are an inherent part of any workplace. And they encourage everyone to discuss these errors openly, finding the systemic gaps that make these errors possible.
As a result, no-blame cultures open the way for innovative thinking and level the playing field between employees. The absence of personal blame encourages employees to explore new ways of problem-solving and experimentation even when there’s a chance it won’t work.
What does a no-blame culture look like?
Here are some of the top characteristics that you’ll find in the majority of no-blame organizations:
There’s a shared understanding of complexity
As humans, we need something to blame, to point to and say, “There’s the reason things are the way they are.” So in no-blame cultures, it’s the complexity of processes and the systemic deficiencies that allow errors to slip through that are to blame. And the more people understand the complexity of the environment they work in, the more they’ll understand that people’s mistakes aren’t to blame for things going wrong.
Everyone is regarded in the same light
Along with the increased awareness of the complexities of an ecosystem, employees also understand the importance of other employees and the role they play, which leads to empathy and understanding of others’ mistakes.
Meticulous debriefing ensures plans to work better
Just because errors are an unavoidable part of the workplace doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do all we can to avoid them. And diligent debriefing is where that begins. It ensures everyone understands the oncoming processes and identifies possible deficiencies ahead of time. It makes identifying errors and addressing them a lot simpler.
Expertise trumps hierarchy
Instead of following a strict hierarchy, subject matter experts take the lead on no-blame cultures, where authority is given to the voices of employees whose expertise makes them the best person for the job.
Behavioral expectations are placed ahead of outcome expectations
No-blame culture shifts the focus away from results to conduct, the way we act at each turn. It keeps the focus on the perpetual motion, not the end of that motion.
A dedication to honesty
This is the heart of a no-blame culture. Sweeping errors under the rug, even when they seem insignificant, hides the fact that errors are an unavoidable part of operations. Discussing errors openly is simply the outward manifestation of that honesty and feeling of security.
It’s not always the loudest that makes the biggest impact
No-blame culture doesn’t begin with a memo or a company policy. It begins when leadership sets the example.
Jim Collins’s concept of Level 5 Leadership, from his book Good to Great, plays a vital role in the ingredient brothers’ no-blame culture.
While Collins’s description of a Level 5 Leader may sound rather noble – someone who is humble, has an unwavering will, and is driven by the core purpose of their company and not by personal gain – it’s also very practical.
It’s a concept that beautifully supports the basic principles of a no-blame culture.
Just consider the following three characteristics that define a Level 5 Leader:
- An understanding and acceptance of others’ strengths and shortcomings
- Driven by continuous improvement
- Committed to doing what’s right, even when it’s not easy
These characteristics are what lies at the heart of a no-blame culture.
While conducting his research, Jim Collins found in his research that while these qualities can come in any personality, it was most often found in quiet and reserved individuals, who led through their actions and not LOUD personalities and grand speeches.
For a no-blame culture to work, employees need to see these elements in action in leadership. Whether you’re a bulk importer, a wholesale supplier, a food brand, a vendor, or even an organic farm, there’s so much value to be gained from adopting a no-blame approach to doing business.
Openly addressing the systemic deficiencies that open the gap for errors without blame: is what the ingredient brothers team is committed to. And it’s what helps us maintain our service quality and build partnerships that last.
And as importers and suppliers working with a global network (just look at our Bulk Product List to see its extent), there’s never a shortage of gaps that could lead to errors. But with a team that isn’t afraid to report errors and mitigate the impact of risks, those errors don’t need to stand in the way of providing value to our clients.
If you want to find out more about our no-blame culture or find out how it improves our risk management, get in touch with us.