Blame is one of the triumvirate of psycho-pathologies that worst afflict human beings. If we consider briefly for a moment the story of Adam and Eve in the garden at the beginning, when they were perfect, we find in the Fall of mankind all three psycho-pathologies there in virulent form. First, they attempt to deny their guilt by hiding: denial. Second, they project their guilt onto the serpent: projection. But third, and most critically of all, Adam blames Eve and Eve blames the serpent: blame. Indeed, blame may be said to be the most endemic, the most pernicious, and the most destructive of all the psychological vices that beset mankind; it is the kingpin of all that is negative within us. Small wonder, then, it wreaks such havoc around us; and it is very difficult to counter.
One crucial aspect of why blame is such a bad thing is that - in the jargon of the personal development movement of the last 50 years - it avoids taking responsibility for what happens to us: somebody else made us do it, somebody else caused it to happen, we are not responsible for what happened because somebody or something else is to blame. It is little understood but every time we blame we are quite literally killing ourselves; there is self-death involved in blaming others, and this is for a very good reason. For when we blame others or some other factor we are denying a part of reality that has been created, and saying we are not part of that. Essentially, we are denying ourselves as co-creators of reality and denying that we accept things as they are; this is why blame is a kind of blasphemy: we are denying our god-like powers to co-create; we are foreshortening ourselves, which is a kind of death, the ultimate foreshortening. In short, we are exiting and isolating ourselves from the Consciousness that drives the universe and of which we are a part. In theological parlance: we are heading for hell; but writing in this secular state now one needs to understand hell not as a place beyond life, but as a state of mind we enter in the here and now.
Organisations, of course, because they are made up of people, blame others too. In the UK at the moment we have the unedifying spectacle of a major High Street brand, British Home Stores, going bankrupt and all the players at senior level blaming each other, and staff at lower levels blaming the senior levels, and media and politicians joining in the fun too. Noticeably we find, when blame starts, there is never any solution to the real problem, just punishment(s) which may or may not be 'just', and a trail of lessons never learnt! And this goes to the heart of what happens within organisations, especially within teams: blame destroys trust, lack of trust produces fear, fear creates paralysis, and paralysis depresses motivation, performance and productivity. And all the while this 'depression' is going on, something else is being elevated: people learn to play games, political games, and particularly the blame game. The whole organisation becomes centred around surviving the game, avoiding blame becomes the central preoccupation of every worker, every manager; while customers, sales, products and services are left floating adrift as blame stays centre stage; at least until death strikes and it's over; by which I mean, of course, from an organisational perspective, bankruptcy.
Thus, it is important to say, as we reach this 4th organisational change stopper, that as far as motivation and the nine motivators are concerned, all are equally culpable and susceptible to blaming. There is no one motivator where we can say that this is the one where blaming occurs. We can see that for the one who wants security, their own may be apparently enhanced if others are to blame; that for the one who wishes to belong, that those who do not are to blame; that for one seeking recognition, then those who withhold it must be culpable; that for the one who wants control, their failure to have enough of it, or somebody else's misuse of it, is to blame; that for one seeking money, their failure to be rewarded sufficiently is to blame; and for one wanting expertise, their teachers, coaches, trainers, mentors were simply not good enough; and then for one seeking innovation and creativity, the bores around them and the dull environment is to blame; and for those seeking freedom it is not their fault they are in a 9 to 5 job, but their merits were overlooked; and finally for those wanting to make a difference, it is obviously others failure to support them that caused the mission to fail. In all cases there is a sad litany of excuses which constitutes blaming others. As a curious sidebar to this exploration of blame, I would like to point out one of the most anomalous things I constantly encounter: atheists who blame God for their condition of non-belief! My point here being that we seem to be so constituted that we need to blame someone even when we don't believe they exist: that's how endemic, that's how deep-rooted, blame is in our psyches. If Father Christmas had only delivered that special present down the chimney in 1999, then I would not be a serial killer today!
Blame, then, is all too familiar and corrosive. By definition, considering all that has gone before, blame is something all effective leaders avoid and never use. Sidney Dekker put it this way: “Blaming people may in fact make them [people/employees] less accountable: they will tell fewer accounts, they may feel less compelled to have their voice heard, to participate in improvement efforts”. Great leaders always take personal responsibility for what has happened 'under their watch'. They also are mindful to root it out in their subordinates through training, coaching, mentoring, and most importantly of all, through example: walking the talk. Blame destroys a creative, risk-taking culture, as people people conform, lay low and play it safe; so this is especially relevant where we are dealing with Relationship type motivator organisations. Here there is already risk-aversion and a procedural mentality, so the addition of blame would destroy irreparably any chance of creative change if it were the cultural norm. So with Relationship motivators the key is a leadership style that impacts the culture, and where blame has no grip.
As I said before, blame reduces the effectiveness of the individual; subordinates harbour grudges even when blame is justified. Thus as we consider the Achievement motivators we need to realise that the focus here may be more managerial than leadership driven: the relentless focus of managers and employees needs to be on what needs to be done to attain organisational objectives, and how this needs to be done despite whatever setbacks seem poised and in the way. In short, it is a problem solving mentality within the culture that regards spending time on attributing blame as just so much a waste of time, bringing us no nearer to the results we want. Notice the difference in the potential approach to the blame problem organisationally from a dominantly Relationship motivator culture to an Achievement driven one: one has to have decisive and strong leadership, whereas the other can benefit from determined and relentless managerial focus. This is not to say of course that either motivator triad could not find the other’s approach effective; clearly, as always with Motivational Maps, context is everything.
For the third triad of motivators, the Growth motivators, and perhaps the Expert motivator might also feature here too, there needs to be a deep commitment to making mistakes because making mistakes is the most effective form of learning. The well-known cartoonist Scott Adams expressed it this way: "Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep". This can only happen when two things are true: first, that people, especially management, actually believe that proposition, and second when there are systems or controls in place which ensure that no catastrophic damage is done in the process. On this second point, Harvard Business School Professor, Amy Edmondson said it this way: “Small failures are the early warning signs that are vital to avoiding catastrophic failure in future”. Blame is invariably attributed because somebody has 'made a mistake', but what if we live in a culture where making a mistake is the norm, is what we expect, and indeed what we want: that the boat of exploration is truly being launched on a daily, weekly, monthly and yearly basis. So, curiously, systems in place with that end in mind is a potential antidote to this blame issue where this triad of motivators is involved. Curious, perhaps, because of course the kind of systems we are talking about here most readily appeal to the Defender or Relationship motivator at the other end of the motivational spectrum. But the same is true of the Relationship motivators requiring truly dynamic leadership (when usually they are managerially handled!), which one might tend to associate with the maverick types at the Growth end of the spectrum. Clearly, then, there is a balancing going on here at the organisational level whereby the yin of low risk motivators needs the counterbalance of the yang of high risk, and vice versa.
The account above is part of an ongoing exploration of how we understand motivation in the organisational setting; it is not definitive, and I am hoping others, as they use the Maps and experiment with the Organisational Motivational Map in real life organisations, will be able to contribute more ideas and data so that we can refine this model and so achieve the result we all want worldwide: namely, organisations which are unblocked, which can effectively change and respond to developments and events, and where, as a result of using Maps, issues such as cultural dependency, busy-busy management, isolation and blame are correctly identified and their effects mitigated if not altogether abolished. Amen to that.