Finding Fault, and Not Solutions

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Don’t find fault, find a remedy” (Henry Ford)

         When I think of this statement, I think of a leading reason why managers fail to lead their people; searching for fault instead of solutions to issues that arise at the workplace. Searching for a cause is sometimes needed, so don’t think I am living in some utopia without guilt. There are times when knowing the why something happened is very important when looking at an issue. Actually, I will give you that most time knowing why is important moving forward, but there is a difference in finding out why and finding fault.

When finding fault is the reflex response to most situations, you are not looking for solutions, you are looking for blame only, and this is very counter productive. The reason why something happened could simply be a process problem, one that you as a leader could address directly and come up with a creative solution to moving forward. You will miss this though, if you don’t have the capacity to search for these process problems, and simply want to tackle blame.

Lets think about a new scheduling system that your organization recently put into place. This has put a lot of demands on your time; you never understood how difficult it is to cover all the shifts of your department in the past because others were in control of this. Now, with this new system you find yourself constantly looking for holes to fill, staff without shifts because there is no space to put them, per-diem staff needing shifts, but their full time obligations aren’t lining up with the needs of your department. You shuffle schedules around, moving people from one shift to another in order to get the schedule to work. After many hours you’re done, your shifts are covered and you feel a sense of satisfaction that the task is complete. What you have failed to recognize is the process problem lying under the surface, one that leads to miss shifts and confusion amongst the staff.

You see, in order to fill all the holes, you moved people’s shifts. Now, your staff’s individual schedules may not match up with what you have put into place. The result is a staff member missing a change you made and not showing up, causing a loss of productivity. The knee-jerk reaction to such a situation is to find fault with the staff member who didn’t show up as scheduled. It is their responsibility to look at the finalized schedule, and make sure they know when they are supposed to be there for goodness sake! You can’t possible personally notify every one of their schedules, it’s published and they should take the time to ensure they know when they should be at work.

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                My issue with this line of thought is complex. Is this a one-time event? Was this the first time there has been a staff issue about their schedule? Is this the first time there has been confusion about the new system and when / where your staff should report? If this is a one-time event, then fault may be the end of the story. However, I’m guessing it’s not, that there have been repeated issues and even with you addressing each one as they come up you are still seeing the same type of issues happen again and again. Why? You have worked hard on the schedule, and it’s not easy! Well, first off, when you see repeated issues involving the same topic, maybe it’s not a personal issue with the staff; perhaps it’s a process problem that needs to be addressed directly to improve the situation.

Finding solutions are often not easy, and process problems can be very complex to tackle. In the scenario above, maybe there just needs to be an automated system to let staff know of a change in their schedule. Maybe finding a way to publish the schedule in an electronic format (like a spreadsheet) once finalized and electronically sending it out to the staff to make changes more transparent is needed. The purpose of this piece is not to find a solution to this fictionalized scheduling issue, it’s to open your eyes that perchance fault of the individual is not what is needed in many solutions. All to often we look for the easy way out, the simple solution that allows us to address an issue without actually looking for causality. This is finding fault, and while staff culpability may be there, if we just take a breath and look deeper we may find that some of that culpability lies with us. Looking for fault isn’t a solution, and when we do this we are doomed to relive the events again and again.

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