Fault Lines

When you encounter a problem, how important is it to you to establish fault?

For instance, if you are walking down the street and you see a piece of trash on the sidewalk, do you ask of anyone nearby whether it’s theirs? How about if you’re at home and someone leaves a piece of trash on the floor? Do you act differently in one place versus another? Why?

If you are at work and a problem arises, do you first establish who’s to blame, or do you first fix the problem?

There are good reasons for establishing who’s at fault when things go wrong.

  1. If the same person makes the same mistake repeatedly, they should either be educated (if they don’t realize they’re doing the wrong thing) or fired (if they do, but they don’t care).
  2. If many people are making the same mistake, your policies should either be more widely known or changed.
  3. If the mistake is something that only a single person can undo, such as an incorrectly sent email.

There is one very good reason to avoid establishing fault. It’s no use if the only reason you’re establishing fault is to cover your own ass. Sadly, though, this seems to me to be the number one reason that anyone bothers to get to the bottom of any problem.

All of this is really just me thinking hard about a current situation where something has gone wrong, and I’m searching for the person responsible. I’m trying to drill down and question my own motives because I don’t want this to turn into something negative, when I know that it doesn’t have to be. If handled properly, this could be a great learning experience for everyone involved.

Let’s see if I’m that good.

2 responses

  1. Quite a dilemma. Been years since I worked but here is my take from what I did wrong. Are you the manager? If yes go all out. If no stay out of it. What you are trying to puzzle out is the manager’s job. You lose when you A) Tell them how to do their job and B) Do their job for them. The road to hell is paved with good intentions. You mean well but it is not your place unless they pay you the big bucks to do it.
    If the problem is so troublesome that it interferes with you performing then in that context your direct support should be notified. If you don’t have enough to do so that you are wondering about global office politics and problems take on more responsibility (requesting it from your direct support) and one day you will be the dude who gets paid to put his a** on the line. But never ever put it on the line for free.
    Been there. Done that. Lost the t-shirt.

    • Sadly, the problem is even crappier than that. I sit on a board of directors. One of the directors decided we needed an intern. I counseled against it, but since the intern isn’t being paid, there was no vote held and the intern was “hired.” (I use quotes because, since she’s not being paid, I don’t really consider her an employee.) We have an admin who has been helping this intern figure out her job. It seems that either the admin told the intern to entirely change our website or that the intern took it upon herself. Either way, it entirely screwed up months of work the board of directors had done on a big rebranding project.

      I get to give either the intern or the admin or both a talking to about what they are and are not allowed to do, but at the end of the day, whose fault is it? And, to my point, how important is it that I know whose fault it is?

      I don’t mind being the bad guy here. It comes with positions of authority. It’s just a matter of figuring out how mean you have to be to get your point across versus how nice you have to be to keep people from quitting.

      Maybe I should just quit. This board of directors shit is for suckers anyway…

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