Can your people help you?

I recently went into a company of about 200 people and found that about 10 of those people were making most of the decisions! Why was this? As you start to talk to people you get a real feel for the reasons. It boils down to the fact that people feel they are blamed when things go wrong.

When something does not go to plan (and it always happens) what does the owner / senior people do? They ask questions? And the nature of those questions, even if unintentional, infers a level of blame on those who need to provide the answers.

How do you change this? That’s a good question. The answer is “with difficulty”. Changing the perception of your people takes time. They need to move to a point where they believe that mistakes are opportunities to learn. Also their ideas and involvement are seen as vital and beneficial to the organisation. We use to say “to err is human”. Inevitably things won’t go to plan. People do make mistakes. We, as senior managers or owners, may get frustrated. But the way we deal with these things will strongly influence the behaviour of our people and how they contribute to the future of the company.

The benefits of creating this change are huge. Let’s just think about the amount of time wasted in any organisation fire fighting. If we could reduce this by half and use the time to drive the organisation forward, would that be a benefit? If we could get 50% of those who just do a “jobs worth” contributing in a more positive way what’s that worth? All this is achievable with a change in approach.

When the next thing goes wrong, rather than asking the straight question “what went wrong?” or “who did it?” try this approach. Get the relevant team together, explain that you need to understand what happened, but that you want the team to identify what changes would be needed to prevent it happening again. Also ask that they prioritise the changes required. Tell them that there will be no repercussions and the priority ideas presented will be adopted as far as is practicable unless they incur too much cost. Give them a timescale to come back and present their thoughts.

For more information, please contact Steve at

Steve Palmer

Steve is an experienced Operations and Technical Manager/Director, a professional process engineer (BSc.(Eng) 1st Honours), and a Six Sigma Master Black Belt, with twenty years experience. He is also a Member of the Institute of Operations Management ...

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