Imagine a scenario: A very large sales order from a prestigious customer does not get delivered on time. The customer meets with the sales head and complains about the inefficiency of his team.
There are only two possible responses to this scenario –
Response A: Sales head takes responsibility for the delay, offers a formal apology and commits to getting the order delivered at the earliest possible.
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Response B: Sales head agrees with the customer and blames his team or a member of the team for the delay.
In an organization, when things go wrong and the management gets involved either the head of the team stands up for his team’s error and takes responsibility or he conveniently places the blame on a junior colleague – a scapegoat, who depending upon the seriousness of the issue can even lose his job.
How the leadership of an organization behaves when things go wrong, goes a long way in determining whether they are the back-of-the-pack “me too” or high velocity “market leaders”. The response at such times also determines how successful an organization will be in the long term – especially in terms of retaining employees and cultivating a positive brand image in the market. It is also at these times that one can gauge the kind of leadership or management practices that an organization follows and its core values.
Successful organizations know that it is not possible to design a perfect system that will address every possible business scenario. They know that things will go wrong and at times they will fail to deliver. However, their reaction to failure is not to pinpoint the blame on a certain individual, but to act immediately to collect all relevant information, make an assessment on what process (and not individual) needs to be corrected, fix it and then share the know-how with the rest of the organization.
They treat every problem as an opportunity to learn new things and rectify anomalies in their systems and processes. In such organizations, the collective experience starts to supersede individual experience or for that matter performance. Additionally, this “accelerated problem fixing” creates an internal know-how engine which may not have any patent protection but is impossible to be copied by a competitor.
Whereas a “me-too” organization not only suffers from bad hiring decisions – where people are selected not necessarily due to merit but by influence.. And then when a problem occurs, all concerned parties get into an effort to save their own back and look for an appropriate scapegoat or indulge in petty politics.
In the long run, this kind of an attitude does not lead to any new learning and actually makes the organization highly political. Organizations must remember that workarounds don’t fix problems. They stay only to re-occur with more intensity at some point of time in future. Fire-fighting leads to stagnation and frustrated employees wasting their precious time and talent.
This quote by John Maxwell beautifully sums what a leader or an organization must do when things go wrong, or for that matter right –
A good leader is a person who takes a little more than his share of the blame and a little less than his share of the credit.