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Blame Culture vs. Fail Culture: what’s your company’s?

Blame Culture vs. Fail Culture: what’s your company’s?

Thoughts about an all-too-common situation…

Blame Culture or Fail Culture?

What’s your company’s culture? Is it more of a blame culture, prone to blame whenever things go wrong? Or is it rather a fail culture, embracing failure as the basic way we have to learn and make progress?

What’s behind these two cultures

Blame Culture or Fail Culture?

Blame Culture

  • Don’t fail!”
  • Failure is punished
  • It’s better to keep doing things the same way
  • Want to try something new? Sure, just be aware that things will go bad for you if you screw up.

Fail Culture

  • Failing is learning
  • “Just try!”
  • Initiatives are rewarded; we should be always trying new things
  • Failing is OK

Let’s focus on the Blame Culture — what are the consequences?

Signals sent to the troops

Blame Culture or Fail Culture?

What’s amazing in a Blame Culture is that failures might go unnoticed… Even better, they can be celebrated, in a rather hypocritical way:

Let’s tell the story we want to hear, hiding failures under the carpet, and celebrate that story!!!

The thing is…

  • First such a culture doesn’t really celebrate failures, thus not making a point that failure is OK
  • Even worse, the troops are rarely fooled by such tricks, so the point is clear: failure must be hidden, failure is not allowed

Impact on management style

Blame Culture or Fail Culture?

The impact of the Blame Culture on the management is not a pretty sight.

  • The fear to be punished makes managers wish for an easier life, a better position where they’ll be less at risk, for less effort
  • … Thus they enter into the political game. Unfortunately, being a politician means that they become pretty much useless to the teams.
  • Yet if they become any good at the political game, they will end up promoted at positions that they aren’t able to fill well. So the better option for them is to keep everything running the same, reproducing the same patterns and thus support the Blame Culture.

Ah! Political games… Definitely the best way to create an un-productive company.

How initiatives are received

Blame Culture or Fail Culture?

Whenever an initiative emerges in a Blame Culture — no matter if it comes from the teams or from the rest of the company — the fear to be punished usually kills the initiative in one of the three following ways:

  • Just blame others instead of trying to help fix things —the initiative dies of lack of momentum
  • The idea is acknowledged as a good idea that could definitely improve the situation, yet people just get passive and doesn’t help — there, too, the initiative dies of lack of momentum
  • Finally, the initiative gets worked on but as some kind of secret project, so that if it fails nobody will know… The problem becomes then that as the initiative is secret, it doesn’t get the support it needs from the whole company to work, and thus it fails too

In short, it’s really hard to beat the lack of momentum of a Blame Culture!!!

Can we do something about it?

Let’s try to break those vicious circles!

Send the proper signals to the troops

Blame Culture or Fail Culture?

That may sound obvious, but failures must be celebrated. Just make it clear that they are as much important as successes — if not more!

Even more important… The “bosses” must screw it up themselves and celebrate, too.

Should we go as far as screwing up on purpose? I’ll let you decide…

Management as a useful job instead of a political game

Blame Culture or Fail Culture?

OK, first, maybe you should train you managers to do their job if they are not up to the task. Nothing to be ashamed of.

Then, I know they are afraid to be punished if something go wrong, but maybe they should be punished — really punished — if there is simply no change.

Not trying should be worse than trying and failing.

Finally, a big focus should be put on the company’s business KPI: these KPI are hard to be gamed and they should drive the whole company…

No more politics: it’s those business KPI that counts.

Removing momentum killers

Blame Culture or Fail Culture?

How come some people take their initiatives secret? This is a sure sign of a lack of psychological safety which should be addressed without delay.

How come some people blame others instead of actively trying to fix things? Here, too, there might be issues on the psychological safety side. But maybe some team building would be welcome too? Such a team building would have to occur with a wide circle of people as, so that they know each other and doesn’t fall back to blaming.

Usually you don’t blame people that you know and respect.

Finally, to get people to take part into initiatives that they recognize as promising, we could go some kind of wall of fail where people’s failures are displayed and learning are deduced from them.

More generally, learnings must be shared, displayed and congratulated.

Could it work?

Blame Culture or Fail Culture?

What do you think? Do you think that such a plan would successfully drive a Blame Culture towards a Fail Culture? What does your experience tells you?

Please add your answer in comments 👇

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