Why is it that we often spend more time figuring out who to blame for the problem than we do trying to fix the error?

A colleague recounted the story of inquiring about wastebasket that had disappeared from the conference room. When she asked about it, she learned that a substitute custodian inadvertently threw the garbage can away. (The trash cans are small and sit inside the recycling can that is much larger.) But two weeks later, there was still no replacement wastebasket.

Staff knew the wastebasket was thrown away and likely had a discussion with the custodian to make sure they were aware of their error as to not repeat it in the future. But no one thought to place a new wastebasket in the room? It seemed people were so focused on the fact that the custodian threw away the trash can that they missed thinking through the next step.

Wouldn’t it be better if the focus became less on the error (mistakes happen) and more on how to respond to the error and get back on track with what needs to be in place? Problems seem to derail people from taking the logical next step to resolve the issue, instead of just to identify it.

It’s one thing to learn what happened, but it is so much better to follow through and rectify the problem instead of just stopping when you receive an explanation. Find a new trash can when you learn that one was inadvertently tossed. Wipe up the mess instead of walking around it and asking: “what happened?” Fix the copier or call repair when you see that the indicator comes on instead of just tossing up your hands. Let someone know that the website isn’t working instead of just growling about it.

The key information isn’t who caused the problem; the crucial element is who resolves it.

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