Sometimes a company like the non-profit Jeff described will come to Changing Lanes to help a company become a Lean company with Continuous Improvement. One of the first things addressed is the way problems and errors are handled. Getting to the root cause of a problem then finding a solution is much more important than “who did it”. Afterall, business is about sustainable profits not mystery and detectives.

One of my first
jobs was in a college library circulation department and the head
circulation manager, I’ll call Mrs. Right, was referred to as the
circulation dictator. She had no good side, reminded you often about the
last time you failed her and always wanted to know “who did this“.

I owned my own
mistake one time and suffered through a tyrannical reprimand in front of
my co-workers, the 20 or so students checking out books and several
librarians that I aspired to be like. I wanted to cry, but held the
tears and in the future used the other workers standard response to the
question “Who did this?”–a shrug of the shoulders. The circulation department had the

highest staff turnover,
highest illness rate
highest customer service problems.

Students even waited until Mrs. Right was on break or lunch to check out books and settle overdue fines.

About a year later when I asked for more hours, I was flatly told “NO — you make mistakes.”
So I asked other departments in the library if they needed a work study
student – and low and behold, both the Technology and the Library
Science departments made room for me. When I went back and resigned
from circulation, Mrs. Right was shocked!

Fortunately, this
one year experience did not stop me from taking responsibility and
sometimes I’ve been known to own others errors for the expressed purpose
of moving forward to:

  1. Find the Cause
  2. Find the Solution

Leaders and Managers may want to practice magnanimity which means giving credit where it is due.
A magnanimous leader ensures that credit for successes is spread as
widely as possible throughout the company. A good leader takes personal
responsibility for failures. This reverse magnanimity helps other people feel value and draws the team together.

Good, competent workers will make mistakes as will good competent leaders and managers. Owning our mistakes is the fastest path to solutions.
A culture of owning problems and finding solutions often helps a
company from having bigger problems. Just ask any pilot about the
check-off before flight. Things may go very wrong, but if the procedures
are followed, many disasters are averted or lessened. To spread the fame and take the blame is a hallmark of effective leadership.