Creating a blame-free culture is an important step towards leadership success, writes Rebecca Bonnington
Harrassment, bullying, blame. Not exactly the qualities that make for a successful organisation. And yet many under-represented groups frequently experience these while at work. The NHS, for example, has some of the highest rates of BAME employees reporting or witnessing harrassment or bullying, something that impacts on their personal wellbeing and the quality of services.
Culture is often disregarded by people as intangible, unquantifiable or a bit “fluffy”, but what they may not realise is that it has a huge impact on the value of a business, either positively or negatively. A great culture will create improved value for shareholders, whereas a negative one reduces that value enormously – think Sports Direct vs. Innocent Smoothies.
As a leader, you can choose to develop a culture based on trust, engagement and confidence in your people,
or you can choose to create a culture of fear, mistrust and disengagement. The choice is entirely yours.
There are a few cornerstones to building a culture of trust and engagement within a team, department or an entire organisation, they are:
1: Create a crystal-clear vision with appropriate values and expected behaviours with your team and organisation, ensuring these are embedded in every single process, procedure and system within your business. Start with how you attract, recruit and retain talent, then consider your suppliers as well as your customers.
2: Review projects, campaigns and results with an eye to making improvements, developing new ways of doing things and harnessing your strengths as a team and an organisation.
3: Harness the belief that most people come to work every day with the intention of delivering their objectives and performing well in their job.
Get this right and your team will be more productive and loyal. Get it wrong, and they will be disengaged
and eventually cost you in recruitment fees and lost skills.
I’ve worked with organisations as a consultant and found senior managers and directors in deep despair because their meetings are a constant round of nit-picking, fault-finding and finger-pointing, which results in low productivity, increased staff turnover and a reduction in quality.
Some leaders are tempted to apportion blame in order to motivate people and get individuals to improve. They may witness a sudden increase in productivity or willingness to engage in the short-term, but this is a false economy in the long term.
Those individuals will not “go the extra mile” when you really need them to, they will not encourage other talented people to join your business, and they will eventually disengage completely, doing only the minimum that is expected of them to keep their jobs.
Finally, they will become mutely compliant, agreeing with whatever is suggested and highly reluctant to offer ideas or take up full responsibility for anything. Why should they if all they can expect for their efforts is a wagging finger in their faces and a catalogue of perceived errors thrown back at them?
Taking your time to create a culture which encourages innovation and therefore mistakes from time to time will progress your business further and faster than blaming people for things that go wrong. Failure is not something to be afraid of.
The key is to encourage feedback. That means everyone has permission to give feedback to each other about their performance and their behaviours. This kind of feedback is not personal, there are no references to personality, only behaviours that are adding to, or detracting from the success of the team. Even the MD or CEO must accept feedback and be prepared to change tack from time to time.
When an organisation accepts that there is no failure, only feedback, then great progress can be made. This doesn’t mean people live in an unrealistic world of “fluff”. What it means is that people accept that things go wrong and that lessons, improvements and opportunities can always be found in those situations.
Don’t endlessly pick over the bones of what went wrong, instead acknowledge things didn’t go according to plan and focus on making sure that doesn’t happen again, giving people an opportunity to improve.
Being mindful of the impact of all actions and by creating a culture of feedback, can result in continuous improvement and engagement across your organisation. Try it and see how your results change.
Rebecca Bonnington is a partner at Shirlaws Group
This article first appeared in the launch issue of LEAD magazine. To get access to more articles like this one, hot off the presses, subscribe today. Next issue published on 18 Jan 2018.