The best managers know they don’t need to rush to assign blame. Instead, they gather facts, take damage-control measures and identify who made which decisions. Their primary goal is to determine what happened in a fair, unbiased frame of mind.
The next time you’re weighing how to react when mistakes were made, apply these tests:
What went wrong? Identify all the causes that contributed to the mistake. Don’t just focus on human error, even though that’s usually the easiest and most obvious element to address. Example: You learn that a financial report contains faulty data. Rather than scold the person responsible for the report’s accuracy, dig to learn more. Perhaps a system or accounting error played a major role.
What’s the lesson? Even if you isolate those individuals who are clearly to blame, don’t call them on the carpet immediately. Consider the ripple effect your actions have on others. You may want to draw a positive conclusion from the ordeal instead of pointing a finger. Example: Rather than dwell on a clerk’s data entry error, call attention to the need for everyone to overcome distractions and maintain accuracy.
If you choose to lay blame, follow these steps when communicating your concern:
Express expectations, not threats. Avoid using phrases such as “If this occurs again...” or “Next time, you’ll really be in trouble.” Instead, define what needs to happen and set expectations accordingly. Example: Say, “In the future, these reports must be 100 percent accurate. If you cannot guarantee that, tell me why so that I can help you achieve this goal.”
Focus on solutions. When blaming someone, beware of harping on the past. If he messed up, spend more time telling him how to improve than chastising him for what occurred. Say, “I’m not concerned with finding fault. I am concerned about [state your solution] so that we don’t face this situation again.” Remember: Just because you’re the boss doesn’t mean you must supply all the answers. Put the onus on the other person to propose solutions. Say, “I don’t fault you for trying. Rather than worry about who’s to blame, what can we do so that this doesn’t happen again?”