Mistakes and the Blame Game
By Jeri Merrell
Don’t argue for other people’s weaknesses. Don’t argue for your own. When you make a mistake, admit it, correct it, and learn from it–immediately. ~ Stephen Covey
What is it about business culture that breeds that very special class of citizen – the CYA specialist?
I have been working with a vendor rep for several years whose focus and follow-through has recently hit rock bottom. This person used to actively manage all our requests and produce results quickly and effectively. Now, they sit on requests for weeks, even months, delaying action and hurting our projects. We want to spend millions of dollars with the company, and we have not been able to make it happen.
When pressed, this person fires off blame in every direction. The third parties aren’t producing. The contracting folks make mistakes on the contracts. The inside professional services teams aren’t available, or staffing levels are slowing things down.
I’ve been closely tracking projects, purchases, and initiatives. The delay is primarily attributable to our rep, who is displaying very little focus, zero follow-through and just isn’t getting things done for us. Everyone else seems to be giving it their best, compensating for the rep in a fairly high-pressure environment.
We’ve tried directness, which results in the blame fountain. We documented and attempted escalation, where this person promptly amped up the blame game and started stabbing backs throughout their organization.
At this point, we need to either get a new rep or switch vendors. The latter choice would be very, very expensive.
The root cause, here, seems to be someone who seems to be unwilling to learn from mistakes.
Where does that come from? Why do people decide that it’s more important to cover their butts than to get the job done? Why are mistakes considered failures and such an arena of anxiety?
I’ve always been taught that if I screw up, I admit it, apologize, and do everything I can to fix the problem and move forward.
Sometimes, in business, a screwup is fairly minor – a mistake on a financial model, an unintended slight to a colleague. Sometimes it’s huge – managing a project that tanks to the tune of millions, or taking a position that gets you permanently branded as negative and “obstructionist”.
Even then, a project management mistake is minor in the major scheme of things. It’s not a doctor’s scary call, or a utility worker bringing down a city’s power, or an auto defect endangering thousands of drivers.
Regardless of the mistake, though, if you don’t admit it and work to resolve it, you never learn from it and grow, professionally and personally.
People like this vendor rep never learn, and I’m afraid projects and people will get dragged down with them.
Jeri Merrell, PMP, is an IT program manager for GCI, an Alaskan telecommunications company. She has worked in project management for the last ten years and her focus has been varied, exploring many facets of the industry: business process, product development, infrastructure, IP telephony, business intelligence and application development. She writes technology and business focused articles at http://www.ungeekit.com.