Don’t Blame the Person, Blame the Process

When something goes wrong on your team, do you ask, “Who?” Or do you ask, “Why?” It is easy and tempting to point the finger at the person who failed. After all, their performance was lacking. But this is not the recipe for building successful teams, or confident people.

I ask, “Why?” I assume that people want to do a good job, and that something in the process or in the culture that I created or sanctioned has prevented them from doing so. It’s a totally different way to approach a poor performance—a way, that when applied, will revolutionize your team.

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When People Don’t Perform Well

In his book Drive, Daniel Pink points out that we are all looking for three motivators.

  • Autonomy–None of us want to be micro-managed.
  • Mastery–We all want to feel that we excel at what we are doing.
  • Purpose–We all want to feel that we are making a difference.

His second point of Mastery is worth highlighting here. We all crave to be excellent at whatever we do, right? So how do you explain it when your people don’t perform with excellence? We must examine the process and culture that may be causing this behavior. But first, how do you think about your people? Leaders typically think of their people in two general ways:

  • People will do an amazing job if given the right tools, empowered with the right systems, and placed in a positive culture, or
  • People are naturally lazy and aim to take advantage of you and the system.

Successfull leaders ascribe to the first assumption. These leaders know, that just like Daniel Pink says, people desire to be excellent. And that’s exactly what I believe: People are amazing and want to do amazing work.

So what should you do when your people don’t perform well? Begin by examining the process and the culture. It has been my experience that when those areas are properly aligned, people begin to thrive. It is beautiful to watch.

All too often however, we are unaware where the process is failing, or quite frankly, that the culture stinks. Yet we expect people to produce outstanding results. That’s impossible. Even the most positive and mature person will struggle under these conditions. This does not absolve the individual who has poor integrity or work ethic. But the vast majority of people will seek to perform with excellence, if given adequate processes and a positive culture. Twitter_logo_blue

So the next time a person on your team is blamed for anything (unless of course it is an integrity issue), make sure you stand in the gap for them. Stop and analyze those two areas they are working under.

Fix the Process

The process must be constantly re-examined, especially when a person is under-performing. For example, in medical clinics, it is imperative that the front desk staff has a positive disposition and greets the patients warmly when they come in. Unfortunately, this is rarely the case. Many times when you go to the doctor, the first person you see looks like they need an attitude adjustment.

Let’s say you are the leader at such a clinic. What do you do in this situation? Many will insist on firing people, hiring the “right people,” requiring customer service training, submitting them to evaluations, cajoling, or incentivizing them. While these may have a role from time to time, I encourage you to do the hard work of stopping to examine the process and systems. Allow me elaborate on this example.

A front desk person at a clinic is many times sinking with highly important and potentially stressful tasks. They are often required to answer the phones constantly, greet patients and give them instructions, verify insurance benefits (if they get this wrong, the patient and the manager will get upset), collect any past due amounts from the patient (and no one wants to do that, when people already don’t feel well). They have to move fast so there is no wait time, make sure all the paperwork is filled out correctly (otherwise the billing of claims will not work or the HIPAA laws will be broken). They are usually alone at the front, paid the least of everyone in the office, and are rarely appreciated by patients, the team, the manager, or the doctor. As a matter of fact, in many places I have worked, they are not even acknowledged.

Now, think about this. How can this person be expected to smile? Even if you put the most gentle, positive person in this kind of system, they will become discouraged and deflated. Discouraged people don’t smile.

So what should you do, as a leader, when a complaint comes in that “your person up front never smiles”? You have several options. I hope you will first aim to understand what kind of system you have placed your people under. I hope you will not assume that you are dealing with a person who just does not have the value of excellence. Don’t go for the quick fix of blaming, pushing, and squeezing an individual without first honestly and earnestly evaluating the process and systems they are working under. Help them. Support them. Make the systems simpler. Get them more help. Make sure they are appreciated, valued, and treated with dignity and respect.

Do that, and they will smile.

Fix the Culture

The culture of a team reveals how people treat one another. When people are not performing with excellence, often there is a culture of negativity, lagging support, or lack of teamwork. People will not perform at their best in these environments.

You are the leader. Fix the culture. Yes, it’s hard work. But it must be done, and it’s your responsibility as the leader to make sure that happens. When we, as leaders, work to build a flourishing culture, our people will respond in kind.

I have learned to almost never blame the person, rather to always examine the process and the culture first. When those two elements are operating smoothly, there is rarely a problem. Yes, sometimes you may have the wrong person in a position, and that should be corrected. It’s rare that we are dealing with a person of poor integrity, bad character, or no maturity. But that can also happen, and must be addressed firmly. However, if we have done our due diligence during the hiring process and paid very close attention to new hires in the first few weeks, these persons will be weeded out and not hired in the first place, or removed within the first ninety days.

When you create an environment in which people are not automatically blamed when failure occurs, but rather they are groomed to naturally examine the process and the culture, they will relax and feel honored. They will become your partners, not your adversaries.

Actionable step: Teach the following statement to your team: Don’t blame the person, blame the process. Make this a part of your culture. Teach it when someone blames another team member. Apply it when someone is performing at a lower level than you wish. And practice this discipline yourself: Always remember, not to blame the person before you examine the process and the culture. Twitter_logo_blue

Your Friend,
Wes Saade MD Signature

About me… I jumped out of an airplane last year. It was scary and exciting! And, I wrote my will on the way there. LOL! What’s the most adventurous thing you’ve ever done? Hit ‘reply’ if you’re reading this from your email. Or leave your response in the Comments below. I’d really like to know!

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For Further Reading:

Don’t Find Faults, Find Fixes
Why You Should Not Blame Anyone

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